OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer praised local clerks for getting a record number of absentee ballots counted Wednesday, and at the same time, urged lawmakers to make that count easier in November.
“We’re in the midst of a global pandemic, and so availing ourselves of the ability to vote from home is the safest way to make sure you can participate,” the governor said in response to a reporter’s question about Tuesday’s primary election during a Wednesday news conference.
A record 1.6 million absentee ballots were cast during the primary, eclipsing the entire August 2016 primary turn out, including walk in votes, which exceeded by nearly a quarter of a million.
Despite predictions of delayed results due to that record number of absentee ballots, local clerks were able to get the job done.
But concerns remain over the anticipated vote count in November.
“I feel like August is our on ramp to the November election,” said Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck. “We’re dealing with, very likely we’re dealing with, a doubling of the number of absentee ballots we received and counted yesterday.”
Whitmer wants to see lawmakers enact proposed legislation that would allow local clerks more time to prepare absentee ballots.
Right now, the counting can’t begin until the day of an election.
Proposed legislation would allow clerks to prepare those ballots days before the vote. The actual vote count would still be on election day.
Nineteen other states have similar laws on the books.
“I am glad that the secretary of state indicated the Senate majority leader is open to taking some of these and that the speaker of the house appears to be as well,” Whitmer said.
“Quickly adapting our system so that we are smarter and we can produce an accurate count quick is something that I think is important and I hope it’s important to every in the legislature too,” she continued.
There are some security concerns with early ballot preparation.
Currently, once a ballot is opened, it’s put through a tabulator, creating both a digital and paper record of the vote.
“Without giving that additional back up of a tabulator record, that could present some challenges,” said Roebuck, who’s hoping legislation could work around that and other issues.
Roebuck says his office is also using the lessons learned from the primary to get ready for November.
They’ve conducted a time study of the number of absentee ballots that were cast, the number of workers and the length of time it took to process those ballots.
“To give us really a better and clearer picture for November as the ballots begin coming in and we begin to understand the volume, what resources we actually need in terms of human capitol with election workers but also equipment,” Roebuck said.
He’s also hoping for additional legislative changes.
“For example, the use of technology for signature verification is very important,” Roebuck said.
It’s unclear if or when the legislature will act on the proposal related to ballot preparation.
Roebuck’s not counting on it.
“I think we as election administrators have to plan for that worst-case scenario. And that worst-case scenario for us would be inaction from the legislature,” he said.