8 weeks from Election Day, absentee requests top 2 million

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — More than 2.1 million people have requested to vote absentee in the November election, according to numbers released by the Michigan Secretary of State Thursday. 

The number is already higher than the record-setting 2 million requests sent ahead of the August primary, which resulted in more than 1.6 million votes actually cast absentee.  

As more absentee ballots are requested and returned, election workers face the potential for result delays. That’s because current Michigan law allows absentee ballots to be checked only beginning at 7 a.m. Election Day.

“Verifying the voter’s name on the ballot matches the poll list, the ballot number matches the poll list that’s on the envelope and the ballot number that’s on the detachable stub matches the envelope as well. Then opening the envelope, flattening the ballot out and getting it ready for processing and putting it through a tabulator. That’s at minimum about 45 seconds,” Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck listed of the initial processing that  must done for each individual ballot. “And when you think about that extrapolated over thousands and thousands of ballots, it is a math problem. It’s a math equation.”

Concerns surrounding delays in processing absentee ballots has garnered legislative response in Lansing. The most relevant bill currently addressing the issue is Senate Bill 757, introduced by Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Groveland Township, earlier this year. 

“We need to get that one through because clerks need to train,” the former Michigan secretary of state told News 8 Thursday. “The Senate majority leader (Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake) told me that he’s planning on taking this bill up next week and then we’ll be calling the House to try to get them to take it up as soon as possible.”

As written currently, a jurisdiction big enough to qualify for added processing time would have 10 hours the day before the election to prepare, but not tabulate, absentee ballots. That size threshold is still being debated, Johnson said. The current draft lists 25,000 as the population requirement. 

She added the legislation would also make November something of a trial run.

“Rather than being a law in perpetuity, it will be a law that sunsets right after the election,” the senator explained. “So we can examine it, see what works best and make sure there’s no unintended consequences before we consider making it a law in perpetuity.”

Other legislation currently pending in both the Senate and the House includes mediating long, consecutive hours for election workers, which Johnson also introduced, allowing ballots to be counted even if not received by Election Day and allowing a voter to fix a signature discrepancy caught during processing of an absentee ballot. News 8 will continue to follow the progress of those bills.