Saturday, November 28, 2020

Absent voter turnout significantly higher than 2016 election

October 27, 2020
By Hope Ann Flores
By Hope Ann Flores —

Two weeks before the 2020 presidential election, absent voter numbers are higher than ever before, and Michigan election officials are encouraging residents to vote as soon as possible. 

According to City Clerk Jennifer Shuster, people who are not registered or who need to update their voter registration information in East Lansing must do so in person at either the clerk’s office or the satellite office at the Hannah Community Center. Proof of residence is required to register to vote.

There are voting booths at both locations, allowing for registration and voting to be accomplished in one visit.

About 10,600 ballots have been issued to East Lansing residents, Shuster said, and roughly 65% of them have been returned, as of Oct. 20.

Shuster said about 300 people have voted in person and the rest of the ballots have been cast via mail or drop box.

Two weeks before the 2016 election, absent voter, or AV, turnout in East Lansing was significantly lower than this election. 2,429 ballots were issued, and 1,176 were returned, as of Oct. 24, 2016. 

The increase in absentee votes is not unique to East Lansing — in Ingham County and across the entire state, voters are taking to the polls early

Ingham County has issued over 93,000 absent voter ballots for this election, and 60,771 of them have been returned, as of Oct. 20. Currently, the county holds a 64.8% ballot return rate.

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said the county is on pace to receive nearly 90,000 absentee votes this year, which would be three times as many ballots were cast via absentee in 2016.

For the 2016 election, the number of Ingham County absentee votes cast two weeks before the election was only 30,681. This year, that number is nearly doubled.“That’s not comparing apples to apples because in 2016, we didn’t have no-reason absentee voting,” Byrum said. “Proposal 3 passed in 2018 that afforded people the opportunity to vote by absentee ballot without having to provide a reason, and also, we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic.”

Statewide, more AV ballots have already been returned than were issued two weeks prior to the 2016 general election. 

For the 2020 election, 2,973,501 absentee ballots have been issued to Michigan voters, and 1,563,423 Michiganders have already returned theirs, as of Oct. 19.

Two weeks out from the 2016 election, only 1,026,192 ballots had been issued, and 473,494 had been returned.  

To assure all votes are received and counted, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson urged absentee voters to hand-deliver ballots to their clerk’s offices or ballot drop boxes.

“Only the absentee ballots received by 8 p.m. on November 3 can be counted, and voters should not risk possible postal delays this close to the deadline,” Benson said in a statement. “Voters who already have their absentee ballot should hand-deliver it to their city or township election clerk’s office or ballot drop box. Voters who still plan to request an absentee ballot should visit their clerk’s office to make the request in person, and fill out and submit the ballot all in one trip.”

Byrum echoed Benson’s concerns, and said that issued absent voter ballots must be voted now and dropped off at either their clerk’s office or a ballot drop box.

Additionally, Byrum said there will be a delay in result tabulation because of the expected number of absent voter ballots to be cast. 

“People may want to know the results first thing on election night,” Byrum said. “Historically, in Ingham County, it’s been 11:00 or 12:00 at night until unofficial results are posted. It’s going to be later [in this election], and it’s going to be later all across the state because more absentee ballots are being voted.”

It takes longer to process absentee ballots because of the added security that election workers must accomplish before counting the vote, Byrum said.

“Just because unofficial results are not available by 10:00, 11:00 at night on election night, does not mean there is a problem,” Byrum said. “It does not mean there’s a delay. It means that we’re still counting ballots, and that’s all.”

This article is part of our Election 2020 print edition. View the full issue here.

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