Michigan SOS: Precincts will need more staff, resources for Nov. election

Susan J. Demas
Updated, 11:27 a.m. 3/12/20

Tuesday’s presidential primary election in Michigan went relatively smoothly, according to the Michigan Department of State (SOS), despite high voter turnout and an increased workload for many of the state’s 1,500 local clerks.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, SOS spokesperson Jake Rollow said that data is still coming in and all results are unofficial until they are verified. As of 9:30 Wednesday, 100% of jurisdictions — about 5,000 precincts — have reported unofficial results that still need to be certified by the SOS. Oakland was the last county to report their results today.

All in all, Michigan saw high turnout for a primary. The total number of votes for both parties was about 2.2 million, with almost 1.6 million in the Democratic primary and 682,451 votes on the Republican side.*

The Democratic total is up almost 400,000 from the 2016 primary, although the total number including both parties is not. About 1.2 million Democrats voted four years ago, compared to almost 1.6 million in 2020.*  

Full Michigan results won’t be in until Wednesday, as new, absentee voters surge

The new option of no-reason absentee ballots had a lot to do with that, with more than 1 million Michiganders requesting absentee ballots and more than 876,800 returned.

That is “about 100% higher than what we had in the March 2016 primary,” Rollow said. “It’s getting close, but not quite reaching the November 2016 [election].”

In 2018, Michiganders overwhelmingly Proposal 3, which added a number of voting policies to the state Constitution that made it easier for citizens to vote. This included automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting and straight-ticket voting.

Tuesday’s primary election was the first election with these laws in place.

The youth vote, however, did not see that same increase. Among 18-to-44-year-old Michiganders, their share of the vote dropped from 45% in 2016 to 38% on Tuesday — a 7% decrease.

Long lines plague Michigan university precincts Tuesday

Rollow said that the updated “spoiled” ballot number is now at 38,158. Spoiled ballots are absentee ballots that are changed by the voter before election day, if, for instance, the candidate they already voted dropped out and they wish to choose another candidate.

The primary issues identified by the SOS had to do with the influx of new voters. Rollow said two-thirds of the 13,500 people registered yesterday were 29 years old and younger, leading to particularly long lines at universities and colleges. Campuses in East Lansing, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo and Dearborn reported two- to four-hour lines just to get through clerks’ offices.

The SOS wants to work with these jurisdictions in the future to mend this problem, possibly by expanding satellite offices for local clerks.

Rollow said that due to increased responsibilities for local clerks — including an influx of absentee ballots that could only be processed day-of, according to Michigan law, and more than 13,500 same-day registrations — the SOS would also like to give more resources, technologies, staff and time to local clerks next time. 

“The strain on the system was apparent, especially in the locations where same-day registrations were high and the lines stretched for hours,” Rollow said.

Clerks deluged with absentee ballot requests before Michigan primary

Rollow also said Michigan coordinated with federal partners, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to ensure the election’s integrity. There were no attempts to interfere with or hack Michigan’s election on Tuesday, but Rollow said, “I don’t think it’s something we can count on in November.”

“This was a primary election. It’s not necessarily as interesting a target as the November … election could be,” Rollow said, especially since Michigan is such an important swing state. He added that the state will continue to work with federal partners to make sure November’s general election is secure.

On Wednesday morning, Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Lavora Barnes said the state “saw a turnout explosion, setting a record for votes cast in a Michigan Democratic primary and increasing turnout by over 28.8% over 2016.”

She credited dozens of party organizers who have been working since 2017 on get-out-the-vote operations.

* Correction: The total number of voters and the number of Democrats voting were incorrect and have been updated.