Absentee ballot requests top 2016 primary total

    Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury

    More than 1.8 million absentee ballots have been requested by Michigan voters ahead of the Aug. 4 state primary, continuing a growth trend that exceeds the number of ballots requested in 2016.

    Data shows at this point in 2016, two weeks before the state primary, just 507,910 absentee voter applications had been received by the secretary of state’s (SOS) office. The Department of State also reports that 607,079 actual ballots have been returned ahead of the 2020 state primary, compared to 215,500 in 2016. 

    Michigan residents approved in 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 in a news release that she is encouraged by the “near universal enthusiasm” for voting by mail that she has seen from Michigan voters. Benson is a staunch supporter of the mail-in voting process.

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

    “I am encouraged that this enthusiasm remains unaffected by attempts to spread misinformation about the integrity and security of voting by mail,” Benson said. “The numbers make it clear that voters trust our system and are eager to participate in it.”

    In 2020, elections are taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic — which poses safety concerns about in-person voting. 

    Benson, a Democrat, said in May she opted for mail-in voting applications to decrease public health risks posed by in-person voting. Absentee voter applications from Benson’s office were distributed to all 7.7 million registered Michigan voters using $4.5 million in COVID-19 federal relief funds that have already come to the state. 

    Michigan’s increase in mail-in voting comes as President Donald Trump continues to allege the process will lead to rigged elections, though he has voted absentee. His latest reiteration of this claim came in Tuesday morning tweet.

    “Mail-In Voting, unless changed by the courts, will lead to the most CORRUPT ELECTION in our Nation’s History! #RIGGEDELECTION,” he wrote.

    In May, Benson also was subjected to criticism by Trump, who tweeted, then deleted, a false claim that Benson’s office was sending actual ballots to Michiganders. He issued a second tweet that corrected the claim to ballot “applications.” 

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

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

    Benson has also noted a burgeoning need for more election workers ahead of both the state primary races and the Nov. 3 general election. Workers are needed to “ensure every vote is counted” by handling an increase in ballots from absentee voters and by subbing in for the older or immunocompromised workforce that usually crews polling stations, Benson said. 

    Registered Michigan voters and residents ages 16 and 17 can sign up to serve as election workers via the Department of State’s Democracy MVP Initiative. More than 4,500 workers have already signed up, per the department. 

    Registering to vote

    Voters can also ask for absent voter 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. Absent voter ballots need to be requested by 5 p.m. the Friday before the election.

    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 for online registration has passed, but residents can provide a document showing proof of residency to their city or township clerk’s office before 8 p.m. on Election Day to register.

    C.J. Moore
    C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She is a journalism graduate student at Michigan State University.