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Large absentee vote dominates primary election

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Hancock election workers Jomarie Wakeham (middle) and Tom Vichich (right) prepare a ballot during the primary election Tuesday.

HOUGHTON — Partway through Election Day, the number of absentee ballots cast locally dwarfed those cast in previous elections. 

Tuesday’s primary was the first since voters received applications in the mail with which they could request absentee ballots for the August and/or November elections. Michigan voters approved a proposal in 2018 allowing no-reason absentee voting. 

In Houghton, 845 people applied for absent voter ballots, 85% of which had been returned by about 2 p.m., Clerk Ann Vollrath said. 

“Just on absent voter ballots, that’s more people than have ever voted in the primary in Houghton,” she said. 

In-person voting, while down, had been steady, Vollrath said. At the Precinct 2 polling place at Dee Stadium, 103 voters had cast ballots by 2:30 p.m. 

In Hancock, 561 absentee ballots out of 697 had been returned by about 2 p.m. 

Two-hundred and twenty-one of the ballots mailed out came from Hancock’s Precinct 1, which votes at City Hall. By about 2 p.m., 43 Hancock residents had cast votes there in-person — probably one-third the usual number, said election worker Tom Vichich. 

As expected for a vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, election workers took precautions. Hand sanitizer, masks and gloves were available at entrances. Pencils were sanitized before use. After voters left, their booths and chairs were also cleaned, Vichich said. 

By executive order, voters were allowed to forego masks in the polling place. However, all but two voters at Hancock City Hall had worn masks, election workers said; at Dee Stadium, everyone had.

Even in a pandemic, Vichich said he had felt a civic duty to volunteer as an election worker.  

“Speaking for myself, I’m just being a responsible member of society and doing my part,” Vichich said. 

Houghton voter Hunter Richards said he was motivated by a non-binding proposal stating Houghton should seek more public input before any sale of the Lakeshore Drive parking deck property to a developer. The city entered into negotiations with The Veridea Group of Marquette last year for a potential mixed-use development on the site. 

“I don’t really agree with what they have proposed,” Richards said of Veridea, which submitted a sample project as part of its response to a request for qualifications. Veridea is still working on its formal proposal to the city, City Manager Eric Waara said at Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting. 

Richards said with the precautions in place, he hadn’t been worried about voting in person. 

“Wearing a mask, it seemed pretty safe to me,” he said. “They had hand sanitizer and everything set up.”

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