GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Big offices and big issues were on the line in the Nov. 8 election, including the race for governor and a ballot proposal that enshrined the right to abortions in the state constitution.
The Michigan Secretary of State’s Office was anticipating more than 4 million total votes, about half of those absentee. Early counts showed more than 1.8 million absentee ballots had been submitted. More than 2 million were requested.
In November 2020, a record 5.5 million people voted in Michigan, 3.5 million of those absentee.
West Michigan clerks said in-person turnout seemed strong. News 8 crews saw a steady clip of voters and some lines at polling locations.
“We’ve seen very active precincts throughout the day,” Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck said, pointing to people coming out early, a good flow throughout the day and the traditional dinner rush.
Michigan allows same-day voter registration in person at clerk’s offices. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said shortly after 9 p.m. that about 14,000 people across the state had taken advantage of that. Many of those were in college towns like Ann Arbor and East Lansing, which is typical. Roebuck added that the satellite clerk’s office at Grand Valley State University in Allendale Township was busy registering a number of students, with some still in line at around 9:20 p.m.
In Grand Rapids, there was a surge of people lining up at City Hall for same-day registration. Anyone in line before 8 p.m. was allowed to register and vote. By about 9 p.m., only about a dozen or so people were still waiting. Hillary Scholten, a candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, brought pizza to them.
The large number of absentee ballots slowed the count, so some races were not called until later than you’re used to. Officials said the count would likely not be finished statewide until late Wednesday night.
New state rules passed in September allowed for two days of pre-processing for absentee ballots, though of course the count could not begin until 7 a.m. Election Day. Some jurisdictions took advantage of the extra time, but not all — they may not have been able to organize staff or they may simply be too small for pre-processing to be necessary.
In the city of Grand Rapids, pre-processing of about 32,000 absentee ballots definitely sped things up and made the count Tuesday go more smoothly. Crews did still have to process more absentee ballots collected on Election Day — those just dropped off to the city and those from people still in line after 8 p.m. for same-day registration.
In November 2020, it took Grand Rapids until late Wednesday afternoon to finish tabulating all the votes. This year, the clerk’s office added three more absentee ballot tabulators even as it saw fewer votes cast absentee.
Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons said she hoped the count in Kent County would be done sometime Wednesday morning. The county Board of Canvassers, which checks the count to make sure the numbers line up, gets to work on Thursday.
On Tuesday night, the website where the Kent County Clerk’s Office posts its results for the public crashed. Posthumus Lyons stressed that the problem was with the forward-facing website only — the actual count of votes continued unaffected.
“We are still getting results transmitted from the precincts and the counting boards. You can see sometimes our clerks are coming in to deliver their materials. Things are happening as they’re supposed to here on election night. You just can’t see it on our website, on that public-facing website,” Posthumus Lyons explained.
She said her office had a workaround, redirecting people to the “elections summary report” PDF under the “Nov. 8” heading on KentCountyvotes.com.
“It’s not pretty, it’s not sexy, but it’s got the numbers that you need,” she said.
She said her team would update it about every 10 minutes.
“We do elections often and I think we do them well here in Kent County, even when the unpredictable happens,” she said.
MICHIGAN GOVERNOR, ATTORNEY GENERAL, SECRETARY OF STATE
It was a long ballot with big races, some of which were close.
The top of the ticket decided who sat in the governor’s office in Lansing. The Associated Press reports and NBC News projects incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won reelection, defeating a challenge from Republican Tudor Dixon.
Incumbent Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, defeated Republican challenger Kristina Karamo.
Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, defeated Republican challenger Matt DePerno.
All three Republican challengers were new to politics. Dixon was formerly a businessperson and broadcaster, DePerno is a tax attorney and Karamo used to be a community college professor.
With every Michigan House of Representatives and Senate seat up for grabs and newly redrawn district lines, Democrats appear to have regained control of both chambers. The state Legislature has been held by Republicans for years — the House since 2010 and the Senate since 1984.
Michigan had three statewide ballot proposals this year:
Proposal 1 passed. It will do two things: First, it would require state legislators and top-level executive office holders to file annual public financial disclosure reports. Second, it would change term limits in the Legislature to a total of 12 years in either or both chambers.
Proposal 2 passed. It is a constitutional amendment that covers a number of election reforms. Under it, the state will add nine days of early in-person voting and count military or overseas absentee ballots if they are postmarked by election day. It will also pay for absentee application and ballot postage and absentee ballot drop boxes. It will codify identity verification via photo ID or signed statement mandate that only election officials may conduct post-election audits and require canvass boards to certify results based only on the official records of the votes cast.
Proposal 3 passed. It will enshrine reproductive freedoms, including the right to abortions, in the Michigan Constitution.
“…Immediately, there’ll be a race to figure out exactly what that means,” Tracey Brame, an associate dean at Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School, said. “So part of the criticism of the proposal, of course, has been that it’s extreme, that there are terms in the proposal that expand abortion rights far beyond anything that Roe did, that you won’t need parental consent anymore, that there’ll be partial birth abortion, etc., based on the supposed breadth of the language. So there’ll certainly be moves almost immediately to define those terms, try to figure out what they mean, and either expand or retract them, depending on your point of view.”
3RD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Democrat Hillary Scholten defeated Republican John Gibbs to represent the 3rd Congressional District, becoming the first Democrat to represent the Grand Rapids area since the early 1970s.
After being redrawn, the 3rd covers metro Grand Rapids and much of Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties. It is considered a national bellwether.
Gibbs, a former Trump administration employee who has been endorsed by the former president, unseated incumbent Rep. Peter Meijer in the Republican primary in August. Scholten, a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney, was previously defeated by Meijer in the general election in 2020.
“We ran a strong campaign that was focused on building something new here in West Michigan,” Scholten told News 8 before the race was called. “We’ve got a broad coalition of supporters on the right and the left.”
AROUND WEST MICHIGAN
There were a few local races of note in West Michigan that News 8 was keeping an eye on:
In Muskegon County, Jenny McNeill beat Jason Kolkema in the election to be a 14th Circuit Court judge. Kolkema is facing a misdemeanor domestic violence charge. The charge came after witnesses recorded him in mid-August as he allegedly abused his girlfriend. Kolkema has denied harming her and she agrees he hit the chair next to her, not her body.
In Ottawa County, voters have again rejected a millage that covers the bulk of the budget for the Patmos Library in Jamestown Township, casting its future into serious doubt. Voters also elected library board members.
In Van Buren County, voters decided Breedsville should not disincorporate and should remain its own independently governed village. If that measure had passed, the village would have no longer had its own government and instead would have been managed by the Columbia Township government.
There were also many local school board races, many of which saw long slates of candidates as they became the unexpected stage for national culture wars. Conservative candidates won nearly a quarter of the school board seats in 15 Kent County districts. There were 84 seats up for grabs in those 15 districts. Twenty of the 43 candidates endorsed by the national conservative organization Moms for Liberty will join school boards in those districts.
AT THE POLLS
The Michigan Secretary of State’s Office said that over the course of Election Day, it got reports of about 10 tabulating machines — out of 4,000 around the state — going down at some point during the day. All were brought back up. Three different types of tabulator machines are used in Michigan.
Those sort of short outages are not uncommon on election days. Posthumus Lyons, the Kent County clerk, explained that when machines go down, voters put their ballots in locked auxiliary bins to be counted by nonpartisan workers when the machines come back up or when voting is done for the day.
Ada Township’s precinct 5, voting at Roselle Park, ran out of ballots Tuesday afternoon, with the township clerk saying turnout was high. More ballots were sent to the polling place.
The city of Hastings ran out of ballots at two precincts. More ballots were printed. Some people were asked to vote on a copied ballot; in those cases, the ballot will be duplicated to a regular ballot before being tabulated.
It’s not uncommon for polling places to run out of ballots.
In Ottawa County, the Fillmore Complex near 120th Avenue in West Olive lost power Tuesday when a construction crew at the Family Justice Center hitting a mismarked power line, the county said. The county clerk’s office is at the Fillmore Complex, but it was running on a backup generator.