Polls close in Michigan with absentee ballots up

Polls have now closed for all of Michigan on the most unusual election in recent history. 

Coronavirus precautions added to the usual election day issues at polling places. But the most notable difference was the amount of voters turning to absentee ballots. 

As of 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, clerks across the state had received nearly 1.6 million absentee ballots back after issuing more than 2 million, Jake Rollow, a spokesman for Benson’s office said. 

The returns so far represent a roughly 77% return rate statewide.

MORE: See full Aug. 4 primary election results

The 1.59 million absentee ballots received as of Tuesday morning significantly outstrips the roughly 484,000 absentee ballots received in the August 2016 primary and surpasses the record1.27 million absentee ballots received in the November 2016 presidential election. 

Oakland County finished counting most of it’s absentee ballots by 6 p.m., but jurisdictions like Dearborn expect to be counting until at least midnight. 

Benson has warned the increase in absentee ballots, which clerks are unable to process before 7 a.m. on election day, could keep clerks working through the night and delay results by one to two days

Absentee ballots usually take more time to process because of the time it takes to verify the signature on the envelope, open the envelope and feed the ballot through the tabulator.

Several clerks contacted by The News last week seemed optimistic that they would be able to process the ballots for timely results. 

The cities with the largest absentee hauls as of Monday include Detroit, where 104,322 absentee ballots were issued and 64,400 were received; Grand Rapids, where 35,734 absentee ballots were issued and 22,159 received; and Ann Arbor, where 35,101 ballots were issued and 22,178 were received. 

Clinton and Canton townships and the cities of Livonia, Sterling Heights, Warren, Farmington Hills and Lansing also ranked among the top 10 for absentee ballot requests and returns as of Monday night. 

Clerks throughout the state were reporting relatively smooth operations Tuesday morning, with fewer people at the polls and more voting by absentee, Rollow said. 

“We haven’t heard of lines anywhere,” Rollow said. “We’re expecting there will be fewer people everywhere.”

Voting problems

There were also problems at some precincts. 

At least three Detroit polling location openings were delayed Tuesday morning and several others were short-staffed due to last-minute cancellations among election workers, according to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office. 

Benson’s office deployed roughly 50 workers to the locations, allowing Northwest Unity Baptist Church, Cooke School and Dixon Academy to open before or by 9 a.m. Tuesday, said Rollow. 

One other voting location in Flint delayed opening because of short staffing, Rollow said. The state sent six workers to help there. Polls were supposed to open at 7 a.m.

More: Primary voters head to Michigan polls amid crowded fields, pandemic changes

Last-minute workers also were sent to Lake County, Benzie County and Jackson County, Rollow said. 

The 50 extra workers in Detroit were among the roughly 6,500 people recruited and deployed by the state for the first time this year to help with an anticipated shortage of election workers, many of whom were of an age considered high risk for the coronavirus, according to the Secretary of State’s office. 

As of early last week, the state had sent over a list of 1,200 workers that could be used by the city of Detroit, and the city had enlisted the help of more than 100 of those. 

“This is in direct relation to the pandemic and in direct relation to the high number of AV (absentee voter) ballots,” Rollow said. 

Staying safe

Benson spoke to Detroit voters late Tuesday morning about the COVID precautions with voting.

“When they show up, you see not a lot of crowds, not a lot of lines and a lot of protocol in place,” Benson said, standing outside her local polling station, Louis Pasteur Elementary School on the city’s southeast side. “People are wearing masks, gloves and (using) hand sanitizer to make sure that everything’s going smoothly and no one has to risk their health in order to vote.”

The only challenges were the absentee workers, Benson said.

“We had a couple incidents in Detroit this morning where we had to open precincts late because co-workers were unable to show up,” she said. “But we planned for it and actually just trained hundreds of people yesterday to back fill vacancies in the case that there were no shows.”

Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey said her office forecast turnout for Tuesday’s election at 20%, up from 13% four years ago. But she predicted the tabulation of votes would be completed sooner than usual because a union was supplying volunteers before making a cautionary comment.

“Our amazing partners have done so much to make this happen. We just pray they all show on Election Day,” Winfrey said at a July 30 press conference

Also in Detroit, some voters reported they hadn’t been alerted until Monday that their polling locations had changed, Rollow said. 

The change in about a dozen Detroit locations actually took place about a month ago, when the owners of various buildings usually used for voting rescinded use of the location because of fears related to the coronavirus, Rollow said. 

When Benson’s office learned that some voters didn’t receive notice until Monday of the changes, state election officials asked Clerk Janice Winfrey’s office to put up signs at the old locations explaining the change, Rollow said. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Jasmin Barmore contributed

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