As Ann Arbor received a record number of absentee ballot requests ahead of Tuesday’s primary elections, in-person voting dwindled. Throughout the day, The Daily visited multiple precincts and found few voters at many locations. Ann Arbor’s online Election Day line tracker reported little to no wait times.
University of Michigan Law student Sam Rubinstein has been working the polls on election days since he moved to Ann Arbor in 2018. Administering an election for the second time as precinct chairperson Tuesday, he wanted to make sure the second precinct in Ward 3 ran smoothly and safely.
The city of Ann Arbor worked with the University to use a bigger space for the polls in the Michigan League, which is otherwise closed. Rubenstein noted the city implemented protective measures like plexiglass between workers and voters; N-95 face masks and gloves for workers; and sanitizing voting booths after each use.
“But obviously the biggest difference is that there’s very few people here, because people have been encouraged to vote by mail, and it’s good to see people taking advantage of that even if it’s a bit quiet here,” Rubinstein said.
Rubinstein said he doesn’t know whether the safety measures in place today will be sustainable in the general election when students are presumably back on campus and turnout is much higher.
“It’ll be harder to sustain,” Rubinstein said. “I’m confident that we’re practicing good social distancing today, but it’s easy when you have such a small number of people.”
Election workers outnumbered voters throughout the day at the League. By 11 a.m., four hours after polls opened, election worker Joan Lowenstein had only seen one voter, a Daily reporter who was at their 3rd Ward 1st Precinct station. Lowenstein said about 20 absentee ballots were sent out to the precinct, which is nearly all students.
“We expected it to be pretty slow because of the big push for absentee ballots this year,” Lowenstein said. “… I know that each ward in Ann Arbor had more absentee ballots requested than total voters in 2018.”
Edward Golembiewski, Washtenaw County Director of Election, confirmed this rise in an email to The Daily, stating 101,807 absentee ballots were sent across the county and 34,519 have been issued for the city of Ann Arbor.
Even though Ann Arbor resident Chris Vessels received an absentee ballot, he voted in-person because he was driving by the League. Vessels said he is also worried about bigger elections, but said the socially-distanced voting didn’t affect his experience much Tuesday.
“This would be a nightmare if there were a big line out the door, and I’m sure for the general election it’s gonna be kind of tough, but for something where you’re the only person in here it’s really not such a big deal,” Vessels said.
Vessels said he voted for candidates who he feels will encourage more housing development in Ann Arbor.
LSA junior Rima Rahman has volunteered in every election since the 2016 general election, starting as a high school student in Detroit. She was worried about safety when she first signed up to work Tuesday’s election, but was reassured by the plexiglass screens and other protections.
“It’s a lot better now that it’s been like a couple hours into the day, but in the beginning it was kind of like, I wasn’t sure what to expect from everyone,” Rahman said.
She said it’s disappointing when people ignore state and local elections, and said these votes make an even bigger impact since it directly affects the community.
“I think it’s the smaller elections that make a bigger difference, because those are the people who work closely with our communities and make the changes that are necessary,” Rahman said. “I don’t think a lot of people know these changes that they’re capable of making.”
Rahman said many people in her Bengali community only vote in the Presidential election every four years. Her parents face a language barrier, so she answers their questions about candidates and elections.
“Having someone available to them that knows these kinds of things, I think it’s really helpful to them,” Rahman said. “It helps them make those changes that they’re capable of.”
Rubinstein encouraged students to start planning now how they’re going to vote in November, as he’s seen so many students who come to the wrong polling place or aren’t registered at their current address come Election Day.
“If people looked that up before Election Day and sorted it out (before) Election Day, there’d be fewer lines (and) there’d be less confusion,” Rubinstein said. “You want to make those chances in advance of the election.”
Students face unique challenges when it comes to voting, Rubinstein said, because they move around often. Rubinstein believes it beneficial for him to work at a largely student precinct so he can help other students navigate those registration troubles.
“I think it’s good to have students who understand those issues and are receptive to them be the ones who are the poll workers for students,” Rubinstein said.
Ann Arbor resident Jason Tomalia dropped off his family’s absentee ballots at the Ann Arbor City Clerk’s office this afternoon and told The Daily he voted absentee out of an abundance of caution. Many voters also used drop boxes outside of the office building to drop off ballots while a small number voted at the polling stations inside.
“My wife is high risk so we’re just being extra careful in our household,” Tomalia said. “She’s living with stage 4 lung cancer so we’re just all being extra careful. Ideally, it would be great to just go to the polls, but we just need to be extra careful right now.”
Tomalia also spoke about the importance of voting in the primary election.
“In Ann Arbor, because we vote so heavily Democrat, oftentimes the primaries decide a lot in terms of the Democratic race,” Tomalia said. “We just make a point to vote in both the primaries and the general elections. My wife is also a first generation immigrant, she was born in Australia, so for her voting is a big deal (and) she always (says) ‘We gotta vote.’”
Tomalia discussed the benefits to mail-in or absentee voting and how it’s working to make elections more accessible.
“I want it to be more accessible,” Tomalia said. “It should be an easy way for people to have their voice heard, so any way we can make it more accessible is a good thing. There’s really no difference … I filled out that ballot, I signed it and turned it in.”
Summer News Editor Calder Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Summer News Editor Sarah Payne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.