GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — County clerks throughout West Michigan are advising voters to have patience as they wait for the results of Tuesday’s primary election, saying an onslaught of absentee ballots slowed the process.
“We’re going to be doing everything we can to do this efficiently, accurately and securely, but we do not want to sacrifice security for speed,” Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons said. “We want all of our citizens to be confident in the process that we have.”
She said even with workers counting well into the night and everything going smoothly, all results would not be in until sometime Wednesday.
Some 127,000 absentee ballots were distributed in Kent County and more than 88,000 had been returned as of mid-day Tuesday, Lyons said — a return rate of about 70% — and more were expected before polls closed at 8 p.m.
“I anticipate getting our final election results not until well into tomorrow, well into Wednesday,” Lyons said. “In 2018 during the August primary, we were able to report our results at about 5 or 6 in the morning, early Wednesday morning. We just have so many more ballots this time around and I don’t expect delays, but I do expect it to take a long time to count those votes.”
Total turnout, both in person and absentee, was expected to be about the same as August 2016.
But results were coming in slower because it takes a while to count absentee ballots. In addition to the tedious process of simply opening the envelopes, poll workers have to check names against the voter roster, confirm signatures and perform other security checks, then get the ballots lined up to be tabulated.
Under state law, poll workers can’t start preparing the ballots for counting until 7 a.m. election day. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, is encouraging the Republican-led Legislature to allow clerks to start preparing the ballots early, but that hasn’t happened so far.
“It’s going to take a long time to count these ballots and to be able to report those results,” Lyons said. “This isn’t a delay. Counting votes is part of the process.”
Statewide, more than 1.6 million absentee ballots had been returned as of Tuesday evening, according to the state. That’s more than all the votes cast in the August 2016, either in person or absentee, which was about 1.4 million.
It was also a new record for absentee ballots cast in any Michigan election, breaking the previous record of 1.27 million in the November 2016 presidential election.
Michigan recently made it easier to vote absentee and state officials have encouraged it this year to help keep crowds at polls small and help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.