Whitmer, Benson defend election integrity amid Trump attacks

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Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talk about the upcoming election at a briefing on Oct. 28, 2020. (Courtesy of the Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s Democratic governor and top elections official on Wednesday defended the integrity of the election amid continued attacks from President Donald Trump, saying results may take longer in close contests because of the surge in absentee voting in the battleground state, but that every valid ballot would be counted.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer encouraged people to take advantage of their right to cast an absentee ballot for any reason, including in person at their clerk’s office, to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus at a polling place on Election Day. She echoed calls for anyone who still has a ballots to either hand-deliver them to clerks or put them in secure drop boxes instead of mailing them. Ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on election night to be counted.

Trump, who is facing Democrat Joe Biden, has baselessly suggested there is “massive fraud” in mail-in voting, saying the election is “rigged.” He said Wednesday that he hopes courts will not allow states to “take a lot of time” after Nov. 3 to count votes.

“Depending on how close these races are, it may take a few days to determine who the winners are,” Whitmer said. “That’s OK. Our local election clerks across the state will be working to get the count right. That’s what really matters.”

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, said that with six days to go until Election Day, more than 2.4 million absentee ballots had been returned out of the more than 3.2 million that were requested. She said people’s votes will count, and she urged voters to be vigilant against attacks that “seek to challenge our faith in this very strong elections process that we’ve built.”

Whitmer and other top state officials warned against voter intimidation, saying it is illegal. The state has appealed a lower judge’s decision that blocked Benson’s ban on the open display of guns near polling places on Election Day.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, said that regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit filed by gun-rights groups, “the polls will be safe and secure. We don’t intend to have law enforcement at the polls, but they will be nearby in the event that there are any sorts of issues whatsoever.”

The state is not expecting any problems at the polls, she said.

Asked if she was concerned about the election occurring during a resurgence of COVID-19, Whitmer said she was more worried about other events before Nov. 3 such as Halloween and Saturday’s Michigan-Michigan State football game. She urged fans to not hold watch parties and to instead root for their teams virtually with others over Zoom.

“Stay safe,” Whitmer said, while also recommending would-be voters to vote now if they can rather than doing it in person next Tuesday.

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