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Saginaw County clerk addresses voter intimidation fears, record turnout

Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 10:54 PM EDT
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SAGINAW COUNTY, Mich. (WJRT) - Michigan’s 16 electoral votes remain one of the top prizes and the state has seen scores of recent appearances from both the Biden and Trump camps that cement its reputation as a battleground state.

In Saginaw County, they’re not only predicting record absentee and in person turnout, but also a record number of poll workers. Engagement in the process like that, combined with other recent developments has led to a lot of concern surrounding how Election Day will play out.

During a Wednesday training session, a fresh crop of Saginaw County election workers got their first look at what awaits them 13 days from now, when they’ll likely be needed more than ever.

“As of today, 52,156 applications have been submitted and 33,304 have been returned.”

Saginaw County Clerk Mike Hanley says that’s around triple anything his staff has seen before. While on the state level, the approximately 1.5 million ballots sent in thus far already just miss the benchmark set back in August. Hanley expects to shatter records at the polls as well.

“So many people are being discouraged from voting by mail, there will be stronger turnout at the polls as well,” Hanley predicted.

As these poll workers sat down for a largely familiar training session, the section on hecklers and poll watchers took on new relevance.

It comes amid swirling fears over the potential for widespread voter intimidation. The practice of staking out the polls is illegal unless they register ahead of time. Efforts to secure the ballot box as neutral ground culminated in Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s recent ban on open carrying firearms into voting precincts.

“I think the worry is much greater than I can ever recall in the past,” Paul Rozycki related via Zoom Wednesday.

The Washington Post found 14 states had reported instances of voter intimidation. Foreign actors also continue to run interference, with the FBI confirming Wednesday voters in Florida and Alaska had received emails sent by Iran, cautioning Democrats to “vote for Trump, or else.” It’s like nothing Rozycki, a political science expert, has ever seen.

“The atmosphere is so different now,” Rozycki explained. “The current kidnapping threat against the governor--the mere fact someone even thought about that raises those threats to a new level.”

Hanley explained--come what may--Saginaw County is prepared to face it.

“I want to say on behalf of all the clerks, that it’s very discouraging for us,” Hanley related. “It’s distressing to see people demean the process and say we can’t trust the process.”

Hanley told ABC12 there would be police within striking distance of any problem spots, but that he remained optimistic the situation on the ground November 3 would remain civil.

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