GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A year ago, two thirds of Michigan voters approved a ballot proposal designed to make voting easier. It had a visible impact on Tuesday’s election.
In a small room in the Kent County building in downtown Grand Rapids, a group of four appointed canvassers, two Republicans and two Democrats, reviewed vote tallies Wednesday to make sure they were legitimate.
“I’m really pleased with how last night’s election went,” Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons said, saying there were no major problems. “We had election results in before midnight and I say that’s a win.”
Countywide, about 21% of registered voters turned out. That may sound low, but it is up by 5% over elections of the same type in 2017 and 2015.
One thing that may have helped boost the numbers is that with the passage of the ballot question, labeled Proposal 3, voters can now vote via absentee ballot without a reason.
“Proposal 3 really had a huge impact on our elections and how we’re administering them and how individuals are able to participate,” Lyons said.
In Kent County, 41% of ballots cast were absentee, a figure similar to what clerks in Muskegon, Ottawa and Kalamazoo counties said they also say.
In the city of Grand Rapids, for example, absentee ballots accounted for less than 30% of votes cast in the last two elections. On Tuesday, that figure was 44%.
There are more dramatic examples, like the city of Lansing, which says its absentee turnout Tuesday was 66%.
“I think that day is coming where more people will vote absentee than at the polls,” Lyons said.
IMPACT OF ABSENTEE VOTES
It was absentee votes in Grandville that sunk a $29.4 million request for a community pool by only nine votes.
Absentee votes also killed a millage to upgrade the White Lake Fire Authority’s facilities.
In Lowell Township, a millage for fire and police services received more support from absentee voters but was defeated at the ballot boxes, losing by seven votes.
“You can make or break your election on absentee voters,” Lyons said.
In Grand Rapids’ 1st Ward, challenger Allison Lutz had a 239-vote lead over incumbent City Commissioner Jon O’Connor at the polls before absentee voters gave O’Connor 730 more votes, allowing him to keep his seat. O’Connor said Wednesday that he made a concerted effort to reach out to voters likely to vote absentee.
Absentee voters also returned Norton Shores City Council member Jason Flanders to office after he was trailing at the polls.
“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch and don’t give your victory speech before the (absentee voters) are counted,” Lyons said.
It takes longer to count the absentee ballots, so they are often tallied by separate counting boards starting at 7 a.m.
While absentee ballots will continue to grow, Lyons believes that there will still be people who like the thrill of voting in person.
“It’s exciting to see everybody that wants to be engaged take that time and go out of their way to cast those ballots,” Lyons said. “I like to go to the polls, bring my kids with me.”
Another change under last year’s statewide ballot proposal was that people were allowed to register at their local clerk’s office and vote the same day. Clerks around West Michigan say that relatively few people used that option, perhaps due to the fact that many don’t know it exists.