Report: Election officials lack accreditation

Bureau of Elections audit shows many local officials not fully accredited

LANSING -- According to an audit report from the Michigan Bureau of Elections (BOE) released in December, elections officials in many areas of the state have not completed the required training to obtain or retain accreditation.

Michigan Election Law requires that all individuals responsible for conducting elections be adequately trained in order to guard against abuse and provide for the purity of elections.

The report states that 14 percent of counties, 14 percent of cities and 23 percent of townships in Michigan do not have fully accredited clerks to oversee elections.

The BOE noted that the primary issue involves completion of ongoing training, or continuing education, and that participation in the initial clerk accreditation program is extremely high.

Several local area clerks were listed as not having full accreditation.

The report named two townships in Osceola County that lack fully accredited clerks -- Hersey and Rose Lake.

Osceola County Clerk Karen Bluhm explained that both townships have had changes in the clerk position this year and they are working to get their accreditation.

"Unfortunately for all counties around the state, this is an ongoing problem," Bluhm said. "The demands that continue to increase for local clerks as it relates to elections make these positions much more than part-time positions. In rural areas, this is a problem as many local clerks already work full-time jobs. The demand is getting greater, causing many clerks to resign."

Bluhm said although she is not their direct supervisor, she tries to assist the local clerks as much as time permits.

"I will be working with both of these townships to help them accomplish the requirements they need for their accreditation," she said.

Hersey Township Supervisor Robert Duke said the former township clerk, Leanne Hoquard, retired and was replaced in July.

"Hoquard now serves as deputy clerk and is fully accredited and fully prepared for the upcoming elections." Duke said. "The current clerk will be trained so that she is fully accredited, as well."

In Lake County, seven townships were listed as not having fully accredited clerks -- Chase, Pinors, Yates, Sweetwater, Sauble, Newkirk and Dover.

Lake County Clerk Patti Pacola said there are two types of accreditation for local clerks, one at the state level and one local.

The state level is mandatory and all local clerks must take the training before they can access state elections sites, and it is set up through the state. Locally, clerks are accredited every two years, in even numbers, with a refresher course in between, she said.

"I haven't had any issues with township clerks not being able to perform in election duties, so I assume they are all accredited at the state level," Pacola said. "We have four local accreditation dates set for 2020. According to the list I keep on record, all the clerks are up to date with their ongoing training."

In Mecosta County, Martiny Township was listed as not having a fully accredited clerk.

Martiny Township Clerk Linda Randall, however, said she has been the clerk for 20 years and has been accredited for "many, many years."

"We have to do training every year to stay up-to-date," Randall said. "My training is up-to-date, and I am fully accredited."

Randall said the township's elections inspectors will need to complete training for re-certification before the elections this year, but it will only take "a couple of hours" to complete.

In addition to the number of townships listed in the audit report, the city of Evart was said to be lacking a clerk that is fully accredited.

Evart Clerk Heather Pattee said she could not comment at this time.

Bluhm said the issue of accreditation has not been a problem in the past, and she does not expect it to be a problem in the 2020 elections.

"Things change every election, so officials need to keep up with the training," Bluhm said. "But, I audit the election every time and have never found anything major to impact an election. There are multiple checks and double checks in the election process, and we all have a good working relationship, so I don't see this having a major impact on the election results."

The recommendation from the audit was that the BOE improve its process to promote accreditation to help ensure that the local election officials are fully trained and updated on Michigan's election process, and better communicate with election officials about the required training.

Since the audit is a snapshot in time, it is possible that some local clerks and other elections officials have received full accreditation since the audit was released, the report said.