Secretary of state: More than 1.5M absentee ballots returned so far

Elections

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says about 3 million people in the state have applied for absentee ballots and more than half of those have already sent their ballots back to their local clerks.

That puts the state on pace to easily surpass its previous absentee voting record of 1.6 million, set in August.

During a Tuesday morning virtual press conference, Benson said only about 20,000 people who had requested a ballot were still waiting on it to arrive and that those remaining ballots should arrive to voters this week.

Two weeks out from Election Day, she urged absentee voters who have not already cast their ballot to submit it at their local clerk’s office or using a drop box in your jurisdiction.

A woman sends up a prayer before leaving her absentee ballot in a return drop box in downtown Grand Rapids on Oct. 20, 2020.

“The mail-in option is still available but we don’t recommend it because there’s just so much uncertainty and so many variables there,” Benson said, reminding voters that ballots must be in the clerk’s office by 8 p.m. Nov. 3 to be counted.

If you mailed your ballot, you can check whether it has arrived at your clerk’s office on the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office website.

You can still register to vote in person at your local clerk’s office and vote absentee then and there.

You may also vote in person on Nov. 3. Benson said her team has worked to make sure that there will not be crowding or long lines at the polls, and absentee voting is a big part of that. Benson said she expects more than two-thirds of all votes to be cast before Election Day.

Benson also discussed guidance she provided last week that open carry of guns would not be allowed at polling places on Nov. 3, which quickly got pushback from West Michigan clerks questioning whether she had the authority to issue such a directive.

“The bottom line is we just want to keep people safe,” Benson said. “We want to recognize that the threat of open carrying of firearms can create a threatening environment through both visual and other ways.”

She argued state and federal laws prohibiting voter intimidation gave her the power to issue the instruction and that questions coming in from voters and election workers prompted the move to ensure there’s no confusion come Election Day.

She also noted those who have a license to carry a concealed weapon may do so at the polls.

“This is not a ban on firearms. This is an effort to protect our voters from intimidation, threats and harassment on Election Day,” Benson said.

The secretary’s Director of the Michigan Bureau of Elections, Jonathan Brater, testified before Michigan Senate committee members Tuesday afternoon. 

He was asked to cite the specific statute that gives authority for the directive by Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton.

“There are a lot of regulations that are potentially implicated,” he responded. “There’s rules about how polling places are operated. There’re intimidation statutes at the state and federal levels. There’s a lot that’s potentially implicated there, but I can tell you that the secretary of state has been working closely with the attorney general on that issue.”

Theis pushed further by saying, “rules don’t trump statute, so I’m trying to find what the statutory authority is.”

Brater was unable to give specific statute, but said he’d work with the attorney general and get senators a response.

News 8’s Lynsey Mukomel contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Know something newsworthy? Report It!