Across the state, clerks carry out the vital work of ensuring our elections run smoothly, safely, and securely. They are devoted public servants who work in our counties, townships, and cities, making sure you can vote and that our democracy thrives. This election year, our hope is to introduce you to some of these hardworking members of our community with brief conversations about what they do and why they are committed to this important work. This edition of Local Election Leaders features Sterling Heights City Clerk Melanie Ryska.

Why did you want to become a clerk?

In my 22 years of being in this industry, I have never met anyone who grew up thinking, “I want to be a Clerk!” More than likely, they fell into this position by chance. I had dreams of being a forensic psychologist, and I graduated with a degree in psychology and minored in criminal justice. While I was busy making other plans, fate drew me into this industry, and my passion for it has kept me here. I began in 2002 by packing precinct election supplies for a small community. I was intrigued by the process and by the thought of having a part in electing our federal, state, and local leaders. I mean, I was doing work (as miniscule as it was) to elect the President of the United States, the Commander in Chief, the “leader of the free world!” How amazing is that?

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Add to that, I am a natural problem solver and gravitate toward challenges. And elections are a challenge! But Clerking isn’t just about administering elections. Depending on the type and size of the community, clerks have such robust job responsibilities, that may include: community historian, records management, birth and death records, freedom of information (FOIA) coordinator, licensing, register of deeds, boards and commissions, passports, cemeteries, managing council/board meetings, scheduling, contracts, resolutions, ordinances, utility billing, administering oaths of office, notary services, some even handle treasury tasks, payroll and human resources matters. The list is endless...

Clerks are the hub of local government; they are the behind-the-scenes cog that that keeps the gears turning. When in doubt, ask the clerk. So, to answer the question of why I wanted to become a clerk, the simple answer is… I didn’t. It never crossed my mind. But I, like so many others, have grown to love my role; I have a tremendous respect and passion for public service. Being a clerk gives me a sense of fulfilment, a notion that I am part of the “bigger picture.”

What is the best part of your job? What is the most challenging?

I am grateful for the work I do. Government is complex, and I get to navigate my team and our residents through that puzzle. I get to solve problems and organize the chaos, be a community leader, and offer public service. The best parts of my job are also the most challenging.

Being a leader in a community and serving the public is always challenging. For example, the constitutional and legislative changes over the last few years have fundamentally changed how we administer elections. Navigating those changes with minimal disruption to voters is extraordinarily difficult! Learning new laws, regulations, procedures, etc., while trying to educate the public, legislative bodies, advocacy groups, and the media is overwhelming and stressful.

Melanie Ryska

Clerks must implement complex changes at a moment’s notice and still conduct elections flawlessly or risk criticisms that damage public trust and perception. So, the challenging part of my job… is to perfectly execute the constant barrage of legislative changes while maintaining and strengthening public trust in our electoral process.

What do you want voters to know?

As we embark on the 2024 Presidential Election, I would like voters to remember that clerks are human. We are just like our voters. We have goals, fears, strengths, weaknesses, and we face challenges and triumphs, just as any other person. We take pride in our work. We also take an oath of office to support the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Michigan, the Charter/Code/Laws of our local governments and we commit to faithfully discharge our duties to the best of our abilities. We take our jobs seriously, we relentlessly follow the law, we do our very best to execute our jobs perfectly, but we are still only human.

Melanie Ryska
I encourage voters to go in search of information from trusted voices, their clerks. I encourage voters who have questions about nine days of early voting, permanent absentee voting, military and overseas voting, election day voting, voter registrations, etc. to ask their local clerk. I encourage voters who have doubts about the process, the integrity of the system, the security of our elections, to reach out to your local clerk, volunteer to work the election, volunteer to be a part of the process.

And finally, after being in the industry for 22 years, I can say that one of the most appreciated gestures a voter can make is by simply saying “Thank you!” A simple “thank you” can mean so much to a clerk who is pouring their heart and soul, blood sweat and tears into their work, sacrificing time with their families; it can give them the strength to continue to stand up for the integrity and security of our elections, ensuring that each and every voter is heard. So, as we head into this election season, please have grace and patience. Please understand that we are working diligently to serve you.

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See you at the ballot box!