GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Even with new rules in place to allow clerks to process absentee ballots two days before the November election, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said the count will likely take longer than people are used to.
The extra time was approved by the state Legislature late last month. Clerks can use it to ready the ballots, checking signatures and ballot stub numbers. The actual count still won’t start until Election Day. Benson, who manages all elections in Michigan as secretary of state, said clerks still need funding and resources to make pre-processing go smoothly.
“I think it was perhaps lost on lawmakers that you can’t just snap your fingers and have staff in place and security in place to ensure that pre-processing happens. It takes time to develop all that,” she told News 8. “And with the late passage of this legislation and the minimal time given, we don’t have much of that.”
She urged patience as the count proceeds methodically.
“It will take time, perhaps even 24 hours after the polls close, and maybe into Wednesday, maybe even Thursday, before we know the full results of the election,” Benson said. “And I think everyone would agree, we want accurate results in an efficient, secure counting process above speeding through the process.”
Absentee ballot has become much more popular in Michigan for two reasons: first because voters in 2018 approved no-reason absentee voting and second because of the pandemic. Benson said that 1.5 million people in Michigan have requested an absentee ballot for the November election. In November 2018, 1.1 million absentee ballots were cast total.
In 2020, Benson’s office mailed absentee ballot applications to every voter in the state. Republicans criticized the Democratic secretary of state but the courts ultimately ruled she was acting within her rights.
“It was a data-driven decision with an eye towards what is best for every voter,” she said. “My job as the state’s chief election officer is to set politics and partisan rancor aside and just say, what does the data say is the best way to make sure every citizen has the rightly placed faith in the process and has what they need to participate in our elections? And you have to remember, 2020 was the first major election cycle where we had this expanded right for every citizen to vote absentee, so it was incumbent on me as the secretary of state to make sure no matter where anyone lived … that they had equal access to information about their right to vote absentee in that election. The fact that we were in the midst of a pandemic made it all the more important to do that…”
In November 2022, about 3.3 million votes were cast absentee in Michigan.
Benson said no-reason absentee has expanded the electorate, encouraging younger voters to cast their ballots, and expanded election season because more people are voting earlier.
“We’re on our way to having one of the highest turnout midterm elections in our state’s history,” she said.
Benson is up for re-election on Nov. 8. Michigan will also vote for governor, state attorney general, and on three ballot proposals that include voting reforms and enshrining the right to abortions in the state constitution.
—News 8 political reporter Rick Albin contributed to this report.