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Absentee voting leads to record turnout for Michigan’s May election

Michigan’s May 5 elections set records, Sec. of State Jocelyn Benson said Wednesday upending conventional notions of lower turnout for local elections and giving potential insight into how future, statewide elections could be held.

RELATED: Vote-by-mail system shows increase in voter participation for Michigan’s May election

On a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Benson said the mail-in voting push earlier in the spring had been a success based on the number of absentee voters in this month’s election which spanned 33 counties and more than 50 elections.

“We have seen the vast majority of you know, upwards of 80 or 90% of those voting today have voted by mail,” Benson told reporters roughly 4 hours before polls closed.

The number of absentee ballots rose overnight to 99 percent of all votes cast. Turnout set a record for May elections too topping 25 percent. The total turnout was double the average and 8 percent higher than the last record set in 2015 when voters cast their ballots against sweeping road repairs.

But the election wasn't cheap. All those mail in ballots plus educating voters on how to use them cost the state nearly $600,000 Benson said. Even with federal funding backstopping for the program, statewide votes in August and November could be expensive especially if turnout is high as expected.

“I think regardless of how people are voting or the status of the pandemic, in August and November, we're already on track and anticipating significantly high turnout and a significant number of people voting by mail,” Benson said.

All of those mail in ballots do mean that counting them could take a little longer. The Secretary assured those on the call clerks working Tuesday’s election were up to the task of counting she acknowledged the number of ballots cast was small compared to a statewide primary or presidential general election.

Benson said she’s pushing lawmakers in Lansing to ease up on some of the rules for when mail in ballots are counted, a measure State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) openly opposed in February and has been a source of friction between the Secretary and some other lawmakers. Benson added she was also working on getting rapid ballot processing machines to where they’re needed for future elections.