October 4, 2020
Everyone in retail or food service has experienced “The Rush.” It’s that surge of customers that pack your store or restaurant and push your staff and operations to the max. Successful shop and restaurant owners learn and plan for it. We implement a playbook to rise and meet our customers’ demands while supporting our employees.
For those in the election business, primarily our city and county clerks, there’s a historic rush coming in the form of the presidential election on Nov. 3. The August primary served as a good trial run with more than 2.5 million Michiganders voting. Of that total, more than 1.6 million cast a record-breaking total of absentee ballots, no doubt in large part due to health concerns related to the COVID-19 crisis.
Heading into November’s heated presidential election, many election experts expect those numbers to at least double. That’s going to potentially create long lines while exacerbating election worker shortages due to the pandemic amid a record-breaking flood of absentee ballots. Sadly, Congress has not acted on repeated calls by secretaries of state and election officials, including Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, for increased funding to best handle the expected turnout.
The recent legislation passed in Lansing by the state Legislature that allows clerks to start processing (not counting) absentee ballots the day before the election is a good first step. It will eliminate some of the time-consuming work on Election Day, but there’s still going to be a tremendous volume of work.
The good news that following August’s primary, many of our clerks have a proven playbook to ensure safe voting. Clerks around the state continue to prepare for The Rush and are taking steps to ensure they have enough election workers to safely mitigate long lines. Many are adding secure ballot drop boxes for absentee voting and creating satellite voting centers. We need to support them in that effort.
That’s why I support VoteSafe Michigan, a coalition of voting experts, elected officials, health care professionals, and community leaders who support accessible, secure mail-in ballots and safe, in-person voting sites. As a business person, I understand that voters are employees and customers and they must be protected during this pandemic, as they are in our stores and restaurants, and as they vote.
Due to Congress’ inaction, it’s going to take all of us working together to help ensure a safe and secure election. As employers, that starts with raising awareness among our employees about voting options in our respective communities, including absentee voting in advance of Election Day. We also need to provide as much flexibility as possible to help them vote safely and volunteer to work at polling locations. After all, a successful election is one where the voices of our employees and customers are heard as they help shape our communities amid the pandemic.
While COVID-19 will present an election surge in November unlike any we have seen, it doesn’t have to undermine this critical component of our democracy. As businesses have adapted with new options to protect our employees and customers, so too must our government to accommodate its voters.
— Paul Saginaw is co-founder of Zingerman’s Delicatessen and Zingerman’s Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor.
Article originally appeared in Crain’s Detroit Business.