Secretary of State: All Michigan voters will receive applications to vote by mail

Tuesday, May 19, 2020 - 2:59pm

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Alexis Rankin/Daily

All registered voters in Michigan will receive an application to vote by mail for the August and November 2020 elections, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced Tuesday. Once a signed application is sent by mail or email to their local election clerk, Michiganders will receive absentee ballots for the August 4 primary and Nov. 3 general elections. 

In a press release, Benson noted the importance of safe voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“By mailing applications, we have ensured that no Michigander has to choose between their health and their right to vote,” Benson said. “Voting by mail is easy, convenient, safe, and secure, and every voter in Michigan has the right to do it.”

Of the 7.7 million registered voters in Michigan, about 1.3 million are on the permanent absent voter list and receive applications in the mail ahead of every election, according to the press release. 

The release said a record-breaking 25 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the local May 5 elections, well above the average turnout of 12 percent from 2010 to 2019. Ninety-nine percent of voters in this year’s May elections cast their ballots by mail or in a drop box.

“We appreciate that some clerks are proactively protecting public health by mailing applications to all their registered voters, and we are fulfilling our responsibility to provide all voters equal access,” Benson said. “We know from the elections that took place this month that during the pandemic Michiganders want to safely vote.”

Benson’s announcement comes as a significant majority of Americans worry about the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the 2020 presidential election, according to a recent Pew Research Center Survey. Seventy percent of those surveyed favored allowing any voter to vote by mail if they want to, including 87 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans.

“The vast majority of voters across the political spectrum want the option to vote by mail,” Benson said. “Mailing applications to all registered voters is one of the ways that we are ensuring Michigan’s elections will continue to be safe, accurate and secure.”

The state’s recent electoral history suggests widespread mail voting leads to increased voter turnout. In 2018, Michiganders overwhelmingly voted for Proposal 3, a change to state election law which in part allowed for no-reason absentee voting. In the first major election since, a record 2.3 million Michiganders voted in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. 38 percent voted absentee, compared to 18 percent in the 2016 primary.

President Donald Trump, who is up for reelection in November, notably opposed widespread voting by mail in an April 8 tweet

“Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to state wide mail-in voting,” Trump wrote. “Democrats are clamoring for it. Tremendous potential for voter fraud,  and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”

In an interview with The Daily, Edie Goldenberg — professor of political science and public policy and faculty advisor to Turn Up Turnout, a student organization dedicated to increasing young voter registration — said there is no evidence voting by mail is subject to significant voter fraud. 

“We’re talking about miniscule numbers for fraud,” Goldenberg said. “There have been systematic studies by political scientists that show that this is safe and can be done well if it’s administered well. … The clerks themselves and the Secretary of State do not see a problem with vote by mail and the states that have gone completely vote by mail — there are five of them — have had almost no instances of fraud.”

Goldenberg said Turn Up Turnout will have to organize quickly once the University of Michigan makes clear plans for the fall semester, because students will not be able to request an absentee ballot until they know their address for the upcoming school year. If students come back to campus, Goldenberg said the University, The Ginsberg Center and Turn Up Turnout are ready to distribute stamps and envelopes and help students fill out their absentee ballot request forms correctly. 

“We’re going to try very hard to help students deal with this,” Goldenberg said. “The nice thing about it is you can vote early. This is the only way you can vote early, and you can take the time that you might need to figure out who you want to vote for — and if there are issues on the ballot, whether you want to support those issues or not, if there are judgeships who you want to support. So, you have a little more time to sort out how you want to vote when you can vote by mail.”

In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump stated Michigan will send absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of the 2020 elections. Trump also said he might withhold funding from Michigan. 

“This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State,” Trump wrote. “I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!”

Jake Rollow, spokesman for the Michigan Department of State, said the state is only sending out applications for absentee ballots.

“President Trump’s statement is false. The Bureau of Elections is mailing absent voter applications, not ballots,” Rollow wrote. “Applications are mailed nearly every election cycle by both major parties and countless advocacy and nonpartisan organizations. Just like them, we have full authority to mail applications to ensure voters know they have the right to vote safely by mail.”

Note: This article has been updated to include a tweet from President Trump and a statement from Michigan Department of State spokesman Jake Rollow.

Summer News Editor Calder Lewis can be reached at calderll@umich.edu.