Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson hosted a press conference Wednesday morning to provide updates about the progress made with and the expected outcomes of absentee ballots in the upcoming primary and general elections. In May, Benson sent absentee ballots to all registered voters in the state. The move sparked a debate with President Donald Trump, who threatened to withhold federal funding from the state. Trump and other members of the GOP have cited concerns about the potential for increased voter fraud from use of absentee ballots.
Benson opened the press conference telling reporters Michigan is equipped and prepared for the Aug. 4 primary elections.
“We’re ready to go,” Benson said. “It’s truly a new day for democracy here in Michigan. This year's elections are taking place with new mandates for voters and amid a health and economic crisis unlike we have ever seen before. For the past 19 months, my administration has worked in partnership with local clerks and national experts to implement election reforms. Even adjusting to these unexpected realities, our collective efforts have made it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”
Benson emphasized that voters who still have their ballots should return them to a ballot box rather than mailing them since the election is less than a week away.
“It is important in these final few days for voters who still have their ballots and haven’t yet returned them to know all of their options for doing so,” Benson said. “Of course they can use the mail, but at this point we encourage people to use the drop boxes that are in nearly every jurisdiction in our state.”
Benson said the state of Michigan is seeing unprecedented numbers of absentee ballot requests. She said close to two million voters have requested to vote by mail in next week’s primary, nearly double the record amount of absentee ballots processed in any previous Michigan election.
“Despite false rhetoric, misinformation, scare tactics that have circulated for months from various different actors and voices — and it will no doubt escalate in the months ahead — Michigan is letting voters know that voting from home is safe, convenient and secure,” Benson said.
She also stated if residents have not yet received their mail-in ballots, they can go to their clerk’s office to pick them up this week.
“To people who have not received their ballots, we’re encouraging them to go to their clerk to request a ballot right there,” Benson said. “The already sent ballot that may be in transit will be invalidated so that it cannot be counted. The new ballot that they get with their clerk will be their new valid ballot, so there is no concern or possibility of anyone getting two ballots.”
Benson declined to comment on the number of ballots rejected in the March primary, but stated the most common reason a ballot is rejected is because it arrives after Election Day.
“In many other states we have seen rejections of ballots that have arrived after Election Day,” Benson said. “When a ballot gets rejected … it’s because of one of three things: The ballot is postmarked by Election Day but it arrives after; two, it’s because someone does not sign the outside of the envelope at all … and third because a signature did not match.”
Benson also discussed the work done to ensure a safe in-person voting experience for both elections.
“To keep election workers and voters safe, we have also provided gloves, disposable masks, hand sanitizer and face shields, as well as new protocols for hygiene and social distancing,” Benson said.
Benson said that while many of the experienced election workers are unable to serve due to the pandemic, the state’s recruitment efforts have been extremely successful.
She also criticized the inaction of the state legislature, stating that while much work has been done, the most accurate results will only be achieved with pre-counting ballots before Election Day.
“(Clerks) cannot even open envelopes or arrange ballots for tabulation until the morning of Election Day,” Benson said. “That is unlike 18 other states, where you can do everything to prepare and then on Election Day all you have to do is send them through the high speed tabulators that we have provided, and that is our best shot at accurate results.”
According to Benson, results will take several days for both the primary and general elections unless legislation is passed to increase counting time.
“We’re dealing with two times the amount of ballots that are typically processed internally,” Benson said. “If we don’t increase the time on the backend that clerks have to process them it will take more time. We are asking for patience, and we are working to prepare the public to not get results on election night.”
Benson also told voters to be wary of misinformation coming from political actors in the coming weeks. She said actors may try to mislead voters about their rights and sow seeds of doubt among the electorate about the accuracy of results.
“We cannot let them carry the day,” Benson said.
Summer News Editor Sarah Payne can be reached at email@example.com.