By: Garth J. Christie, MMC
I am always a bundle of nerves before an election and this coming Presidential Primary on Tuesday, March 10th, is no exception. A thousand things could go wrong and, although I may not have control over these things, I am responsible for them. Four years ago, 25 election workers were “no shows” on Election Day. Five of them were chairs or cochairs.
This year I am particularly concerned about the new voting location for all the voters living east of Telegraph Road. For the first time, we will be using Triumph Church Field House at 23800 West Chicago. A look at the challenges I have encountered over the years will explain my anxiety.
When I was a teenager this area was divided into three precincts: 34, 40, and 46. I was elected precinct delegate for 34 which voted at Borgess. The other two precincts voted at Steven T. Mason Elementary School. Mason closed and became a charter school, and Marilyn Heldenbrand consolidated all three precincts into one (23) voting at St. Hilary Church for most elections and Vandenberg Elementary School for school elections only. When I became Clerk, I eliminated Vandenberg so that they had one location for all their voting – St. Hilary.
St. Hilary was a good location although a little small. During peak hours for presidential elections voters would be lined up outside and around the corner. On the plus side, the church opened their kitchen facilities to our election inspectors and they appreciated that hospitality during the long day. Then St. Hilary closed.
My first choice for a new polling location was the big church at 23800 West Chicago formerly known as Temple Baptist and then Detroit World Outreach. I was informed that the Board of Elders had jurisdiction over the use of church property and referred to “Elder Walter” (not his real name). I won’t go into detail but talks with Elder Walter did not go well. His strategy was to put me off long enough that I would go away. He won.
Voting ended up at the charter school – Michigan Technical Academy – across Elmira from St. Hilary. They were wonderful hosts and told me their building was mine on Election Day. It was large enough that no voters would be waiting outside in the elements and right across a residential street from the previous location. Only a few voters were angry about walking across Elmira so it was a success. Then the charter school closed.
I went back to the big church at 23800 West Chicago and Elder Walter. Nothing changed. I was torn and
even considered dividing the precinct into three again and absorbing the voters into other precincts. Then someone suggested Living Bread Ministry on Telegraph Road north of I-96. This is a former grocery store. It is large and handicap-accessible. They were not eager to host voting but agreed after I told them about my experiences with Elder Walter. The hosts and facility were fine. It was the location that was problematic. That intersection is one of the five most dangerous in the State. I had trouble navigating it when I visited during rush hour. I got several complaints and I agreed with their concerns. So, it was back to the drawing board and the big church on West Chicago. When I was once again referred to Elder Walter, I was ready to throw in the towel.
Then a neighbor has hopefully resolved this problem by putting me in touch with the leaders of the new Triumph Church who are happy to do whatever they can to help the “city.” I needed to relocate voting 10 times after facility closures: Volney, Smith, Westland, Keeler, Roosevelt, Bulman, Gibson, Ashcroft, St. Hilary, St. Robert Bellarmine, and Michigan Technical Academy.
After each closure, I took responsibility for that closure and apologized for it. Then I jumped through my shadow to find a suitable alternative location. A big church with a field house and leadership happy to share their blessings with the rest of the community appear to be a match made in Heaven.