What was behind the ballot shortages in Michigan's Tuesday primary?


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Some Oakland County voters reported waiting more than an hour to cast ballots Tuesday night, as the state saw its highest primary turnout in 40 years, with nearly 2.2 million voters.

Days before the election, absentee ballot returns were up as much as 50 percent over the same time in the primary election cycle four years prior.

So why weren't county elections officials prepared with more ballots?

The answer remains a mystery — and Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown has launched an investigation to find out — but it may just have something to do with money.

State rules mandate that — at a minimum — clerks print as many ballots as the “most recent corresponding primary election plus 25 percent.” But four years ago, the turnout was just 1.3 million.

Recognizing that might not be enough, the Secretary of State's office says it reached out to clerks across the state to suggest they print more.

"We encouraged clerks last week to take into account the dramatic increase in absentee ballots and to plan accordingly," SOS spokesman Fred Woodhams says. "Oakland County learned from this experience and I don’t believe it will happen again."

Precincts in Novi, Madison Heights, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Bloomfield Township, Royal Oak, Pontiac, Southfield, and Farmington Hills reportedly ran out of ballots Tuesday night, requiring voters to wait as the clerk's office delivered more. Some people with jobs and kids to pick up had to leave before they could cast their ballots, according to Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman, who spoke with the Free Press.

Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown told the Freep that her department spent $102,000 printing "more than enough ballots" ahead of the election, based on previous turnout totals. Printing a ballot for every registered voter in the county would have cost $300,000. She told the paper she was "baffled" by the shortage.

While Clerks can print and deliver additional ballots to precincts in the event of a shortage, some precincts do have the capability of printing on site — a much faster option. But Brown told WJBK-TV that many precincts couldn't use their printers because the workers had not ordered blank paper in the right size.

Brown has come under fire for the problems. Mayors and County Executive L. Brooks Patterson reportedly took aim at her Wednesday, with Patterson telling WJBK-TV the shortages are "an embarrassment for the clerk."

"It's my county," he said. "I am not happy about it."

Brown's office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

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