Wyoming designs drive-thru precinct to vote during pandemic

WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — Raul Gonzalez decided coronavirus wouldn’t keep him from performing his civic duty.

“I’ve got to vote. I feel like it’s my responsibility,” he said, sitting in his car and wearing a mask.

He pulled up to the Wyoming City Hall parking lot Tuesday and cast his ballot at a drive-thru polling place.

“It’s a good deal. They’ve got it set up nice,” Gonzalez said.

The pandemic has created an unusual challenge for city and township clerks administering the seven school district millage renewals and bond proposals throughout Kent County.

All or portions of three of those districts — Kelloggsville, Godwin Heights and Byron Center — are in the city of Wyoming.

“All told, those three districts include about 12,000 voters out of our 52,000 voters in Wyoming,” Wyoming City Clerk Kelli VandenBerg said.

The traditional way of casting a ballot by walking into a precinct and marking the slip in a booth created a lot of concern with the threat of the virus still present. So VandenBerg and her staff set up signs and traffic cones and stationed staff, clad in personal protection equipment, in the parking lot to create the drive-thru option.

A drive-thru polling place at Wyoming City Hall set up to allow for social distancing driving the May 5, 2020, election.

“The voter can vote and once they’ve completed that process, the voter can proceed to the drop box and just drop it in,” VandenBerg explained.

>>Your Local Election Headquarters

The Michigan Secretary of State’s Office pushed absentee voting this election. That was made easier by Michigan citizens’ 2018 approval of automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration and no-reason absentee voting.

Wyoming’s drive-thru system covered voters who had not already registered and mailed in their ballots. The city said about 1,600 absentee ballots were returned before the election. That, combined with the drive-ups, was expected to put turnout at about 12%. Turnout for past May special elections has usually been in the single digits.

Statewide, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson expected turnout would be closer to 24%, more than double the May average.

What voting will look like in six months, when the White House is up for grabs, remains to be seen. But VandenBerg said the May election could provide ideas, like getting more voters comfortable with the absentee ballot process, for the post-pandemic future.

‘I definitely think there will be some changes in the future based on what we’re experiencing right now,” she said.