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Michigan at record 2.1 million requests for absentee ballots

USPS: Michigan that mail-in ballots may be delivered too late for Nov. election
USPS: Michigan that mail-in ballots may be delivered too late for Nov. election

LANSING, Mich. – Absentee ballot requests in Michigan are at a record high, but the state could face issues getting results on time and ensuring qualified voters' ballots are counted in the upcoming presidential election, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Michigan faced several challenges in processing the influx of absentee ballots in the August primary. Nearly 9,000 absentee ballots were rejected in the primary due to mail delays that caused ballots to come in late or people forgetting to sign the ballot or other signature verification problems, according to the state.

Since the beginning of the year, clerks from across the state have asked for more time to process ballots. Clerks can’t start processing absentee ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day under current law, but there is a push to allow that earlier.

Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, local clerks and voting-rights groups have urged the Republican-led Legislature to let election workers start processing absentee ballots the day before Election Day. Benson has warned that the results of close races in November likely will not be known until three days later — maybe longer — without such legislation.

“This is a new way to vote for so many of them,” Secretary of State spokesman Jake Rollow said Thursday. “People are used to voting in the polls where there are other people around who can help you if you have questions. This is a sort of a do it yourself process at home and people aren’t going to get it right all the time. ”

The state has received 2.1 million requests for absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election as of Tuesday, Rollow said.

The absentee voting announcement comes with just under two months to go until the November election as the department prepares for an increase in voter turnout. Just under 2.1 million ballots were requested for the August primary election. The day after the primary about 400,000 residents already had requested absentee ballots for November, Rollow said.

When voters filled out absentee voter applications for the primary, they could check a box to request a November absentee ballot.

Applications to vote absentee must be received by the local clerk's office by 5 p.m. Oct. 30, though the Secretary of State's office advises Michigan residents to request a ballot earlier. Clerks will start mailing absentee ballots to voters on Sept. 24, Rollow said. Voters are advised to send back ballots early or use a local drop box.

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Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues