This story first appeared in our sister publication, ThumbCoast Senior, in July 2022. It is being re-published on the Blue Water Woman blog with permission.
By Patti Samar
Though he does not wear a cape or leap over tall buildings, mild mannered Fort Gratiot Township Clerk Bob Buechler diligently serves the citizens of his community, doing his part to ensure that our democratic system of government is free from fraud and election mischief.
Buechler is in his third year of serving as clerk of the largest township in St. Clair County. While the clerk’s office handles a wide variety of duties during the course of any given day, month or year, without a doubt its most important duty comes every election cycle.
And though he has not been clerk for a great number of years, Buechler already has numerous election cycles under his belt. He was appointed clerk in November of 2019, and then, in 2020, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, the township had elections in each of the possible election cycles during the course of the year.
Buechler said it was, indeed, trial by fire, but he had a lot of help from Fort Gratiot Supervisor Rob Crawford, who had served as township clerk for many years, and Vicki Ostrander, who has served as deputy clerk in the township for many years.
“Rob Crawford ran an amazingly tight ship,” said Buechler. And even though Michigan only recently began allowing citizens to vote by absentee ballot for any reason, Crawford “already had a robust absentee list.”
A political science major in college, Buechler said at one point earlier in life, he had considered getting involved in the political scene at a much higher level. However, he has learned that serving the community as an elected official at the local level allows him to feel he has made a real contribution to the community that might not be possible when working through higher levels of politics.
“I can actually get some things done that benefit our local citizens,” he said.
That includes reassuring citizens that township officials conduct legal local elections following Michigan law.
“Between the various laws and rules and procedures, there’s checks and balances throughout the process,” said Buechler.
He noted that because every state runs its elections a little differently, citizens become concerned because “they kind of get lost in the national conversation” regarding whether or not there are election irregularities.
Buechler wants to assure residents of his township and beyond that citizens can feel confident that their ballots are being cast legally, whether they choose to vote in-person or via absentee ballot, and fraudulent voting is not taking place in the community.
“We’re certified to run elections and we’re doing everything following Michigan law,” he said. “We’re doing everything to count the ballots and we’re not counting any ballots that shouldn’t be counted.”
If citizens are concerned about the validity of the voting process, Buechler encourages them to contact their local clerk.
“My advice to anyone is to call their local clerk and ask questions,” he said. He noted that his office takes a lot of calls from concerned voters.
“After we talk to them, everyone has come away with a better understanding of how our ballots are safe and secure.”
And if they still have questions? Buechler encourages citizens to attend election inspector training.
“It’s all very technical and frankly, it’s kind of boring for people to learn about, but once people understand the process, they are assured there aren’t thousands of extra ballots working their way into the system. It doesn’t work that way,” he said. “The training helps to answer a lot of questions. That’s always my answer to people who still have questions. Come to a training.” The training is two hours.
Buechler encourages citizens to get involved in the election process, noting that anyone 17 years and older who is a registered voter in Michigan can become an election inspector, so long as they are not convicted of any election crime.
“If anyone is interested in working as an election inspector, let us know,” he said.
Fort Gratiot has approximately 9,000 registered voters – the number literally changes by the day – and approximately 4,200 of those voters are on the permanent absentee voter list, meaning those citizens choose to vote by absentee ballot every election cycle.
He noted that, at approximately 65 percent, Fort Gratiot’s voter turnout rate is higher than the state average.
And, he said that voters can feel confident in the choosing absentee ballots as a voting option. The United States Post Office has been very helpful in ensuring ballots get to their destination, he said.
“The post offices locally bent over backwards to get ballots to us,” he said, noting that on election night in 2020, a postmaster from Royal Oak personally drove to Fort Gratiot to deliver one single ballot at 7:30 p.m.
But, if citizens are still concerned about using the USPS, they can also drop off their completed ballot at the township office 24/7.
“The ballots are dropped into a locked safe,” he said, noting it is monitored by staff during the day and also with security cameras.
Overall, Buechler said that to cast just one fraudulent vote, at least five felonies would need to be committed, so fraudulently attempting to cast thousands of fraudulent votes would put a criminal at risk of committing, literally, thousands of felonies.
“There are too many variables and your’re committing too many felonies and the reward is not there to submit even one fake ballot,” he said. “Is that worth committing five felonies for? The risk/reward for casting a single fraudulent ballot just isn’t there.”
Buechler said that, in addition to watching carefully for fraudulent activity, the township has plans in place for any number of other scenarios that could take place on election day or in the days leading up to it.
“We have contingency plans for the local power going down, for the electrical grid going down, for security issues. We work with local law enforcement and they are great. But I don’t expect any issues with voters.
“We are prepared for the worst, but hope for the best.”