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Posted on Tue, Oct 9, 2012 : 1:03 p.m.

No-show at candidate forum gives Washtenaw County clerk chance to reflect

By Amy Biolchini

When his opposing candidate did not show up at an election forum Monday night, incumbent Washtenaw County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum used the time to reflect on his past eight years in the office.

The League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor area hosted a live, televised election forum Monday night at the CTN studios in Ann Arbor.

Republican and retired real estate broker Stanley Watson is challenging Democratic incumbent Kestenbaum for the clerk position in the November general election.

The office of the clerk and register of deeds has a 2012 annual budget of $2.56 million and 2013 annual budget of $2.46 million.

The county clerk serves four-year terms and earns an annual salary of $101,528.

Kestenbaum said he was disappointed he was unable to meet his opponent, as Kestenbaum has run unopposed in previous elections when the League had hosted forums.

Watson submitted an emailed statement to the League stating he was sick and unable to attend.

Kestenbaum, a licensed attorney, is a former county commissioner in Ingham and Washtenaw counties. He has been the Washtenaw County clerk since 2004.


Larry Kestenbaum

“I love this job. It’s a combination of all kinds of things that I’ve been interested in,” Kestenbaum said, noting his interest in the job started when he was researching land records as a teenager.

When he was first elected as clerk, Kestenbaum said there were 50 employees in the department, and now there are 38.

In Washtenaw County, one person has held the office of clerk and register of deeds since the 1980s.

The register of deeds manages property records for the county in a way they can be publicly accessed.

The clerk’s role is to maintain all vital records of deaths, births and marriages, as well as to be the chief election official, manage weapons permits and court records.

Kestenbaum said he sees election-day voter registration becoming the way of the future. There’s room for improvement when it comes to the hoops voters have to jump through to vote absentee, he said.

In the last period of redistricting in the county when lines were redrawn for commissioner districts - reducing the number from 11 to nine districts - Kestenbaum said he believed he did a good job of engaging the public’s input in the process through a series of public meetings around the county.

Though voter fraud is not a significant problem in Michigan, Kestenbaum said the most vulnerable part of the process is in tabulating the votes.

Under Kestenbaum’s authority, the clerk’s and 15th District Court offices have streamlined their operations and eliminated a conflicting set of lists that called residents for jury duty, he said. Kestenbaum has said he prides the clerk’s office now for being accessible to customers.

“It is critically central to everything we do that every customer be treated with courtesy and respect,” Kestenbaum said, explaining how his office now solicits feedback from customers in order to improve the experience.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Thu, Oct 11, 2012 : 6:36 a.m.

I've noticed that Kestenbaum often uses his position to advocate in a political manner.

Larry Kestenbaum

Thu, Oct 11, 2012 : 1:07 p.m.

I have two distinct roles as County Clerk. (1) In administering elections and record-keeping, it is critical to be scrupulously fair to everyone; I believe I have done this. (2) As a partisan elected official, I am in the public arena, and I campaign for re-election, support other candidates, work with the county board and other elected officials, advocate on policy issues, etc. To be an effective county clerk requires the ability to separate and balance those two different roles and responsibilities. Elections in Michigan and most other states are administered by partisan officials; the Secretary of State, county clerks, and township clerks are all elected on a partisan ballot. The election system takes this for granted, and channels it. At every level from precinct workers to the State Board of Canvassers, by law, critical tasks require the involvement of individuals identified with BOTH major parties. Neither party can count or recount votes, or certify election results, unilaterally.


Tue, Oct 9, 2012 : 10:25 p.m.

Larry Kestenbaum, Thanks for not shying away from the public comments at this site, even though people hiding behind computers can discourteous. You receive my respect and my vote because you are an elected official who actually RESPONDS to us! That's impressive and appreciated. Also, I am happy to see the improvements in the Clerks Office and the ease of obtaining records online. Thanks!


Wed, Oct 10, 2012 : 2:15 a.m.

Agreed! Mr. Kestenbaum has served well as the Washtenaw County Clerk and should continue to do so!

Susan Montgomery

Tue, Oct 9, 2012 : 9:46 p.m.

Mr. Kestenbaum has done a solid job in his years in office. I don't know him personally, but whenever he has been quoted in the news on issues throughout the years he has given well thought out and well informed answers that showed a non-partisan approach to serving the public well. He embodies what it means to be a dedicated public servant. He has my respect and my vote.


Tue, Oct 9, 2012 : 10:27 p.m.

Amen to that.


Tue, Oct 9, 2012 : 7:39 p.m.

Really? "Kestenbaum said he sees election-day voter registration becoming the way of the future. " Most Dictators love this kind of voter registration also. It is son easy to get the right number of voters to win and still make it look legitimate!

Basic Bob

Wed, Oct 10, 2012 : 2:58 a.m.

@jcj, You are assuming that township clerks expend any effort to verify registration in the thirty days before the election. I am skeptical. If a voter can provide the proper documents to support legal registration, there is no purpose for a waiting period. Except to exclude new residents and procrastinators.


Tue, Oct 9, 2012 : 9:10 p.m.

"Election Day registration already works well" Works well for who? Election day registration leave no chance to verify legal voters. But then some are trying in every way to let illegal voters vote !

Larry Kestenbaum

Tue, Oct 9, 2012 : 8:12 p.m.

Election Day registration already works well in Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Washington DC.


Tue, Oct 9, 2012 : 5:20 p.m.

"unable to meet his Watson"?


Tue, Oct 9, 2012 : 10:26 p.m.

Sherlock will be relieved.

Julie Baker

Tue, Oct 9, 2012 : 5:32 p.m.

Thanks, that error has been fixed.