LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Thursday that more voters participated in this year’s Aug. 4 Primary Election than any other August primary in the state’s history.
According to Benson, just over 2.5 million Michigan voters participated in Tuesday’s primary election, surpassing the state’s previous record of 2.2 million in the Aug. 2018 Primary Election.
Officials say 1.6 million of the 2.5 million votes were cast using absent voter ballots -- more than any other election in Michigan history. The previous record for absentee ballots cast in a Michigan election was 1.3 million in the 2016 Presidential Election.
The increase in absentee voting in Michigan is partially due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but is also due to new voting rights.
Proposal 3, also known as the Voting Policies in State Constitution Initiative, was approved in 2018 and added no-excuse absentee voting to the Michigan Constitution -- allowing all Michigan voters to request absentee ballots without requiring a reason.
A number of Michigan voters elected to vote by mail for the May Presidential Primary Election after the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March. Voter participation in the May election had already surpassed participation in previous May elections before election day even arrived.
Benson then chose to mail absent voter ballot applications to all registered voters in Michigan in May for the August and November elections to provide them with more voting options amid the pandemic.
Now Benson says the state anticipates record voter turnout in the upcoming Presidential Election in November.
According to Benson, the state expects at least 2.4 million people will vote by mail in the November election. Of the 7.7 million registered voters in Michigan, about 5 million are expected to participate in the upcoming election, officials said.
The 2.4 million anticipated absent voters are comprised of people who have either already requested an absent voter ballot for the November election, or are already registered as a permanent absent voter in the state, Benson said. This number has the potential to increase as more people choose to avoid polls amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Benson says that the state will take the experience from the August Primary Election to influence how the November election is handled -- and her office is expecting to face some challenges in the fall.
Many Michigan precincts were reporting election results by Tuesday evening, but some precincts in larger cities did not report results until late Wednesday evening. Benson says the delay is largely due to an increase in mail-in voting and the need for legislative change to make processing absentee ballots more efficient.
Currently in Michigan, absent voter ballots are not allowed to be opened until the morning of election day, though they can be cast up to 35 days prior to election day. Benson is requesting the Michigan Legislature to allow absentee ballots to be opened and prepared for tabulation at least one day prior to election day so that results can be reported more swiftly after the polls close.
Benson also mentioned challenges with the United States Postal Service (USPS) delivering absent voter ballots on time.
Many Michigan ballots were delivered to local clerks’ offices after election day, though they were postmarked prior to election day. Benson has requested Michigan Legislature to allow ballots to be counted if they were postmarked before election day but were received up to two days after election day.
Benson has also requested that the USPS be fully funded, as “voters’ rights should not be subject to the capacity of the US Postal Service.”
As of Thursday, about 10,000 Michigan ballots have been rejected from the Aug. 4 Primary Election. Officials say they are currently working to identify the exact reasons for the rejections, but many were likely rejected for arriving after election day or the signature on the ballot did not match the voter’s signature on file.
The Michigan Secretary of State office says the number of rejected ballots will likely rise as more absent voter ballots arrive late.
In addition to requesting legislative changes, Benson says she also requested additional federal funding to support additional machines, election workers and communication ahead of and for the November election.
Still, officials say in-person voting proved successful for Michigan precincts on Aug. 4. Benson says there were no lines or crowds at polling precincts on Tuesday, allowing for a safe and efficient voting environment amid the pandemic.
Though many voters are welcoming the vote-by-mail alternative, Benson previously received backlash from U.S. President Donald Trump for encouraging absentee voting.
Trump falsely accused Benson of “illegally” sending absentee ballots to all Michigan residents ahead of this year’s elections. Benson actually sent absentee ballot applications to registered Michigan voters who can choose if they’d like to vote by mail in August and November.
Trump then threatened to hold up funds to states that are trying to make it easier to vote amid the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming that the vote-by-mail system leads to voter fraud.
Amid the president’s rhetoric surrounding the vote-by-mail system, a number of concerns and claims have cropped up across Michigan regarding absentee voting -- and most of them are false.
“There’s no evidence that voter fraud happens in incidents of allowing citizens to vote by mail, which they have a right to do in the state of Michigan,” Benson said. “We’re fortunate in the fact that states have been voting by mail voters in states like Colorado, Washington, Oregon and several others have been voting by mail for decades.”
Still, just last week Trump “floated” the idea of delaying the November Presidential Election amid unsubstantiated claims that an increase in mail-in voting due to the pandemic would result in fraud. He later retreated, but still said he doesn’t want to see a “crooked election.”