Like much of the nation, Berrien County saw large numbers of people voting in Tuesday’s election.
Of the county’s 134,947 registered voters, 61.5 percent (82,984 people) voted, according to Electionreporting.com.
The number of Berrien County residents who voted in the most recent presidential election in 2016 wasn’t readily available because it was right before the county switched to using the new company.
But a comparison with voter turnout during the 2012 presidential election shows a significant increase in the number of voters.
Election Magic reported in 2012 that 58.11 percent of the 126,111 registered voters voted in the county, meaning that 73,283 people voted.
Lincoln Township Clerk Stacy Loar-Porter said that her township saw 74.21 percent of registered voters (9,234 people) take part in the 2020 election.
“That is the highest turnout that I’ve seen for (the township) within the last 15 years,” she said.
She said that for the past two presidential elections, the township had 70 percent of registered voters vote in 2016 and 69 percent in 2012.
St. Joseph Township saw similar numbers.
Danielle Riegel, election administrator for St. Joseph Township, said that on Tuesday 6,621 people (73 percent) of registered voters cast ballots.
In 2016 and 2012, about 70 percent of the registered voters voted in St. Joseph Township.
Not every municipality saw record numbers.
Benton Harbor Clerk Kimberly Thompson said that the city saw an average number of voters vote on Tuesday – about 37 percent. She said that during presidential elections, as many at 40 percent of the city’s registered voters have voted.
Having more people participating in the election was just one of the things setting Tuesday apart from previous elections.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot more planning and precautions were required.
“We had the extra PPE and the extra workers and the extra steps that were taken, making sure everything was clean for all of our voters,” Loar-Porter said.
Riegel said her township also took a lot of extra steps due to the pandemic. For example, she said voters in her township were given one pen to use through the entire process, and the pens were then sanitized for the next person.
Plus, Loar-Porter observed that the flow of voters was different from previous presidential elections.
Normally, she said there is a steady flow of voters all day, with mini-rushes in the morning, at lunch and then after work.
“But this year, we saw more of a heavy rush in the morning and by 1 p.m., it really slowed down,” she said. “People voted early in the morning more than normal.”
Riegel said she saw the same thing in her township. Instead of a steady flow of voters all day, she said the number of voters leveled off around noon.
Another difference was the high number of absentee ballots.
Riegel said that St. Joseph Township issued 4,563 absentee ballots, which was a little over 50 percent of the township’s 9,000 registered voters. Of the absentee ballots issued, she said that 4,394 returned – a return rate of over 96 percent.
During a normal election, she said about 30 percent of the people cast absentee ballots.
Thompson believes that more people voting by absentee ballot will continue in future elections. She said that how the absentee ballots are processed will be tweaked in future elections to accommodate this increase.
The clerks also noted that this year, they’ve received many questions regarding how secure the absentee ballots are. Thompson said she has no doubts about the absentee ballots being secure.
“Our system is very secure with verifiable checks and balances in place to ensure the integrity of the process,” she said.
“I have 120 percent trust in our absentee ballot system,” she said. “My workers would agree that we think that everybody should work in counting the absentee ballots once so they can see the security that we go through.”