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Michigan adapts to absentee ballot influx before primary

Absentee ballot online signup screen shot

Michigan is navigating uncharted waters as more absentee ballots have been cast before Tuesday’s primary than in any other election in state history and clerks figure out how to process the influx and manage to safely have in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has pushed Michiganders to vote absentee, even going as far as to send every registered voter an application using $4.5 million of federal funds. The decision has drawn criticism from Republican legislators and President Donald Trump, but residents have widely taken advantage of the voting method.

Benson said last week that the strain on local clerks to process absentee ballots on Tuesday may lead to results being reported days later, but Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown said she and local municipal clerks are going to do everything in their power to get timely results.

“We just roll with it,” Brown said. “We just have to figure it out. We don’t have time to sit there and complain about it or panic about it.”

More than 1.28 million absentee ballots had been cast in the state as of Monday, breaking the record set in the November 2016 presidential election, Benson’s office announced.

To help clerks count absentee ballots, Brown signed contracts with 16 of the 52 municipalities in Oakland County to tabulate their absentee ballots so they can focus on in-person voters. She said she met her goal to hire 150 people to count absentee ballots for the municipalities.

Oakland County is the second most populous county in Michigan and has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases, so Brown said polling locations are also providing personal protective equipment and taking precautions to limit the spread of the virus.

In the weeks leading up to the primary, several clerks reported that they were struggling to recruit Election Day workers because people were concerned about COVID-19. A few clerks expressed concerns over having the legal minimum of workers at precincts. After statewide recruiting and pushing for state workers to take Tuesday off to help at polls, Benson’s office said there were no current reports of precincts failing to meet the requirements.

In order to ensure their ballot is counted before the polls close at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Benson is encouraging voters to use local drop boxes to drop off their absentee ballots instead of the mail.

Victor Jackson, a Lansing resident dropping off his ballot on Monday, said he liked voting absentee because it gave him a lot of time to sit with the list of names to make a decision and he didn’t have to worry about getting COVID-19 in line at the polls..

“It’s the safest thing to do, that’s my main goal, to stay safe. I’m 61 years old, I’m not no young jitterbug,” Jackson said. “We’re going to do the same thing (for the presidential election), I’m not going to get in line for that, with the COVID-19.”