GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — City and township clerks across West Michigan are getting ready for a long night when Tuesday’s primary rolls around.
This year marks the first presidential primary since Michigan’s new voter laws took effect in 2018, allowing all voters the option to cast an absentee ballot without needing a reason and to register to vote in person anytime their local clerk offices are open, even on election day.
>>Inside woodtv.com: March 2020 primary coverage
“These two changes will have profound impact on the workload placed on local election workers on Tuesday,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson tweeted Thursday afternoon.
ABSENTEE BALLOT BOOM
As of 8 p.m. Thursday, 924,340 absentee voter ballots had been issued statewide for the 2020 primary — nearly double the number issued in 2016 primary, according to data from the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office.
>>Spreadsheet: Absentee ballot counts by city and township
Clerks in all 14 west and southwest Michigan counties have issued more absentee voter ballots this year than in 2016, including Allegan, Barry, Branch, Calhoun, Ionia, Kalamazoo, Kent, Oceana, Ottawa, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo and St. Joseph and Van Buren counties.
As of Thursday morning, Kent County had issued 58,568 absentee ballots for this primary — more than double the absentee voter ballots issued during the March 2016 primary, before the new voting laws were passed.
A narrowing presidential race is also leading to more absentee ballot buildup in Michigan. The Secretary of State’s Office says at this time in 2016, a total of 3,094 voters spoiled their ballots, casting a new ballot to vote for a candidate still in the race. This year, that number is already nearly eightfold, with 24,109 spoiled ballots tallied as of 2 p.m. Friday.
Clerks are also planning for a longer weekend. State law now requires all city and township offices remain open at least eight hours the weekend prior to an election, allowing voters more time to register to vote and request and return their absentee ballot.
>>Michigan Voter Information Center: Find your sample ballot here
Voters have until 5 p.m. Friday to request an absentee ballot by mail and 2 p.m. Saturday to mail a new absentee ballot if they want to spoil their previous one. Absentee ballots must be returned by mail or dropped off at your township or city clerk’s office — the county clerk cannot accept them.
Emergency absentee ballots are available for eligible voters by written request before 4 p.m. on election day.
BALLOT COUNTING CRUNCH
Because election workers can’t start counting absentee ballots until Election Day, the secretary of state is warning voters Tuesday’s results will be available later than previous years.
The Kalamazoo County Clerk’s Office says while the state pays for the election materials including more absentee ballots, any additional election staff needed to handle the influx in ballots and registrations must be funded on the city or township level.
Each county won’t know if the new voter laws have led to higher voter turnout or just a shift in how residents are voting until after Tuesday’s ballots are counted.
For voters casting their ballot in person, polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.