In Michigan, there’s a surge in absentee ballot requests during the pandemic 

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A little over 1.5 million absentee ballot applications have been filled out by voters and returned ahead of the Aug. 4 primary election, a significant spike up from 429,130 received by this same time in 2016, according to the secretary of state’s office.  

Data from the Michigan Department of State shows voters are more widely choosing to vote absentee. The uptick comes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and two years after Michigan residents approved in November 2018 a ballot measure to amend the state Constitution and expand access to voting. One of the measure’s eight policies is that voters can vote absentee without providing an explanation.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said 7.7 million registered voters in the state have been mailed a ballot application, plus instructions on how to vote from home. More than 1.4 million voters who applied to vote by mail received their ballot by the end of Tuesday, 28 days ahead of the state primary. In comparison, 410,804 people received a ballot in that same time frame in 2016. 

Vote-by-mail applications will be sent to all Michiganders for 2020 elections

Benson, who supports absentee voting, said in a news release that Michigan residents are exercising their right to vote from home with “enormous enthusiasm.”

So far, 109,199 completed 2020 ballots have been returned — close to double the 57,144 ballots returned by the same point in 2016. 

This year, elections are taking place in concurrence with the COVID-19 pandemic — something that’s calling into question the safety of in-person voting at physical jurisdictions. The ballot applications from Benson’s office were distributed using $4.5 million in COVID-19 federal relief funds that have already come to the state.

“This significant increase in those requesting to vote by mail already this year confirms they recognize that this option is a safe, secure and convenient way for them to ensure their voices are heard, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic,” Benson added.

Benson, a Democrat, said in May she opted for vote-by-mail applications to decrease COVID-19 public health risks posed by voting in-person. That same month, she faced criticism from President Donald Trump over absentee voting.

Updated: Benson counters Trump’s inaccurate voting tweet: ‘We sent applications, not ballots’

Trump — who first incorrectly tweeted an assumption that the Secretary of State was sending actual ballots to voters, deleted it, and issued a new one attacking the applications mailings — called Benson “rogue” and threatened to “hold up funding” to the state if it uses the option. 

In her response to Trump’s second tweet, Benson reiterated her authority to make sure voters know their options for voting, adding that “every Michigan registered voter has a right to vote by mail.”

The president has levied a number of attacks on voting by mail in recent months and claimed, without evidence, that it helps Democrats, even though it’s an option he’s used, as the Advance previously reported.

Registering to vote

Voters can also ask for absentee ballots online at the Michigan Voter Information Center. Individuals can also find clerk information, polling locations and steps on how to register to vote on the website. 

If someone wants to vote but doesn’t know how to start the process, the SOS’s office has an online step-by-step guide for registering. The deadline to register to vote in Michigan’s Aug. 4 primary election is July 20.