LANSING, Mich. – With the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19) present throughout the country, some states have encouraged absentee voting ahead of presidential primary and general elections.
Michigan is one of them: Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced in May that all registered voters would receive an application to request an absentee ballot for both the August and November elections. Voters can now choose to vote by mail instead of in person 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,” said Benson. “Voting by mail is easy, convenient, safe, and secure, and every voter in Michigan has the right to do it.”
According to Benson’s office, Michigan voters have embraced this option by a landslide: Officials say they have received about 1.3 million requests for absentee ballots ahead of the upcoming state primary in August -- a 350 percent increase from requests made ahead of the 2016 primary election.
The vote-by-mail system proved effective for Michigan’s May election, with voter turnout increasing compared to participation in recent years. Benson’s office mailed about 740,000 absentee ballot applications to Michigan voters ahead of the May elections.
Now the office is ensuring that absentee ballot applications are mailed to all 7.7 million registered voters in Michigan.
Officials say that more than one million absentee ballots have been issued to Michigan voters as of Thursday. So far about 30,000 ballots have been returned one month before election day.
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 is actually sending absentee ballot applications to registered Michigan voters who can choose if they’d like to vote by mail in August and November.
Still, Trump 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.”
Many Michigan voters have already received their absentee ballots for the August 4 presidential primary election in the mail. Officials are reminding voters that they can only vote for one party in the primary election. Voters should also note that they must sign the back of the envelope containing the completed absentee ballot.
Officials say the ballot can be returned by mail or in person to their local clerk or a ballot drop box location. Voters should contact their local clerk for hours of operation and locations for ballot returns.
Absentee ballots are also available for blind voters in Michigan.