Berrien County Commissioners receive election update

Published 2:05 pm Thursday, May 23, 2024

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ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County Commissioners heard an early election update from County Clerk Sharon Tyler at their weekly meeting Thursday. In action, commissioners approved grant applications for three existing specialty courts as well as planning for a fourth specialty court.

     This was the county board’s last meeting for May as next week is a fifth Thursday. The county board will next meet on June 6 when they hold their second night meeting of the year, this time in Niles. The June 6 meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the Niles District Library.

     Commissioners took action at the end of Thursday’s meeting to amend their meeting schedule for August and September. They voted to cancel the board’s Sept. 5 meeting and to not add back a meeting for Aug. 29 which is a fifth Thursday.

     As for the election news, Tyler reported on what the county has done to comply with the new state voting laws put in place by the passage of a state proposal in 2022. That proposal allows for early voting for up to nine days before state and federal elections among other measures.

     “I didn’t vote for proposal 2 because we already had no reason for absentee voting which is very similar,” Tyler said. “But since it passed I’ve been passionate about implementing it and I do see certain benefits.”

     She noted that over the last year she and her election staff visited St. Joseph County, Indiana early voting sites to see how they operated, scouted possible early voting sites for Berrien County and entered into agreements with all municipalities except for Bainbridge and Benton Townships. They also applied for grants and organized trainings.

     Tyler reported that 600 people took advantage of early voting in the February presidential primary election and she expects more to vote early in August and November. She said she suspects they had less voters in February since it was the first time early voting was offered and because it was a presidential primary with people having to choose a party.

     The early voting dates for the Aug. 6 primary election are July 27 through Aug 4, while the early voting dates for the Nov. 5 general election are Oct. 26 through Nov. 3. “I do feel that with August and November, the turnout for early voting will be totally different than what we saw in February,” ehs aid.

     Tyler said she will be asking the county board to approve an application for a second state early voting grant from the Michigan Bureau of Elections at their June 6 meeting.

     In action Thursday, commissioners moved applications forward for three existing trial court programs as well as a proposed new court program.  All the applications are to the State Court Administrative Office.

The county is asking for a $59,679 grant to help fund the continued operation of the Drug Court for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 and matching it with $150,325. The drug court has been in operation for 14 years and provides alternative treatments and programs for those suffering from substance abuse disorders.

The application for the Swift & Sure Sanctions Probation Program asks the state for $185,000 with a local match of 11,784 for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. That program has been in place in Berrien County for more than a decade to help offenders avoid prison by offering more programs and doing more frequent monitoring.

     With the Mental Health Court program, the county is asking the state for $149,618.75 with a local match of 53,042.60 for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. The application is being done in conjunction with the Riverwood Center. The goal of the program is to help adults diagnosed with serious mental health problems.

The county is applying for a planning grant from the state to look at the possibility of establishing a new Sobriety Court in Berrien County. The county would get $30,392 from the state with a local match of $49,236.99 for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. If established, the new court would help those facing their second drunk driving conviction and be an alternative to jail.

In public comments, Michigan State Police District Commander Capt. Mike Brown spoke about two programs the state police are doing in conjunction with local police agencies. He said the State Police and the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department have been collaborating on narcotics enforcement with the Southwest Enforcement Team.

He reported as well on a federal public safety news conference held earlier Thursday in Benton Harbor. Federal, state and local officials announced the Safe Summer 2024 program and the resources being deployed in the Benton Harbor area. Two full-time detectives will be embedded in the violent crime taskforce and five other officers will help with patrols.

He also spoke in favor of the upcoming law enforcement millage renewal that will be on the August ballot in Berrien County.