Thursday, November 18, 2010
Clerk opens door to Macomb County history
Election records dating back to 1839 will be available online
By Chad Selweski, Macomb Daily Staff Writer
In 1839, the first election after Michigan became a state, Macomb immediately established its reputation as a bellwether county and, at the same time, a rebellious territory within the state’s political playing field.
Macomb voters narrowly supported William Woodbridge, in concurrence with the rest of the state, for governor. But they rejected a state constitutional amendment regarding the election process — in defiance of the rest of Michigan — and overwhelmingly rejected a county ballot proposal to allow county government to borrow $6,000 to build a courthouse and a jail.
These bits of history, presented in their original form — an official journal written in flawless calligraphy with a quill pen— will soon be available to the public via the Internet. County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh is purchasing high-tech equipment that will allow her staff to scan the pages of history and make them available on her website — a first among Michigan’s 83 counties.
“This is a small amount of money ($3,740) to make this happen and the benefit is so overwhelming,” said Sabaugh, the 36th county clerk of Macomb. “This way, we will always have those records preserved on computer.”
Prior to Sabaugh’s proposal to put the county’s election history “at the fingertips” of the public, the documents were stored in the dark, gathering dust, in the basement of the county courthouse — a building that cost thousands of times more than the building proposed 171 years ago. Though the official record books are nearly 200 years old, they are in extraordinarily good shape.
Sabaugh said history buffs will be enthralled at the details provided by these archives, but the heritage reflected by these yellowing pages will engage Macomb’s overall electorate.
“Among the general public, you’d be surprised at the number of requests we receive asking if a certain person ever ran for office,” she said.
Washtenaw County Clerk Lawrence Kestenbaum, one of the state’s premier historians of county and local government, saluted Sabaugh for emerging as the first clerk to put all of her county’s elections records on the web.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Kestenbaum said, adding that the archiving project will require some editing to eliminate mistakes and redundancies committed by elections officials through the decades.
The initial 1839 records show that Macomb voters favored Woodbridge for governor over Elon Farnsworth by a 807-786 tally. They opposed the state constitutional amendment by a 453-266 margin and sent a message by rejecting the $6,000 building proposal by a resounding 1,024-242 gap.
At the time, Macomb was mostly farmland with a population of fewer than 2,000 people. The vote, held over two days, Nov. 4 and 5 — apparently a concession to provide farmers sufficient time to arrive at the few polling places — also determined Macomb’s state senator, three state representatives, one of two circuit court commissioners and the county property surveyor.
The electorate also elected two county coroners — one more than Macomb currently employs with a population of about 820,000.
The election records will be available in a scanned format, an exact reproduction of each page, and will be searchable by year. Starting with the 1910 records, which are typed, the archives will provide a PDF format that can be searched by word.
That first election in 1839 consisted of voters from Macomb’s 13 townships – the existing township municipalities plus Sterling Township and Warren Township . At the time, no independent cities existed but the township of Orange was a historical aberration.
Located in the southeast corner of the county, Orange Township eventually became Erin Township. Erin Township evolved into the cities of East Detroit, Roseville and St. Clair Shores. And, in time, East Detroit also underwent a name change to Eastpointe.
All the records should be available online, at macombcountymi.gov/clerksoffice, by the end of the year. The cost will be financed by an “elections revolving fund” that Sabaugh uses for equipment improvements.
The project comes on the heels of a 2009 effort by the Clerk’s Office that put all Macomb County board minutes and resolutions on Sabaugh’s website dating back to 1926.
With the Clerk’s Office shedding about 20 percent of its employees since the county first experienced its ongoing budget crisis in 2008, Sabaugh has relied upon automation and new technologies to maintain services at current levels.
The county board’s Administrative Services Committee has approved the archiving project, plus two other technology upgrades requested by Sabaugh. The funds for these efforts still face final approval from the full board.
The other proposals are:
An $8,009 allocation to purchase equipment that will allow an upgrade of Concealed Weapons Permits process, with a coated card, similar to driver license, including a photo of the holder of the concealed pistol license, distributed to each recipient. The current paper process requires four to five days of manpower per month, in part because Macomb County license applications and renewals have jumped from 2,300 in 2007 to a projected 10,000 in 2011. Officials say the new license, which is resistant to fraud or tampering, has already been implemented in 12 Michigan counties. The improvements will be financed by two special accounts, including fees paid by CCW permit applicants.
A $3,072 effort to install large computer monitors in the Clerk’s Office to assist customers who are unsure about the services offered, the fees charged, and which line of people to join. The money will pay for two 42-inch plasma-screen monitors, one 32-inch monitor and one 19-inch TV/DVD combination that will be installed in the departments that handle elections, court matters and vital records such as birth and death certificates. The plan will be financed by the clerk’s data processing account and the office supplies account.
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