WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — Ballot counting used to be pretty simple.
Voters showed up at the polls on election day and cast their ballots. Tabulation machines counted those votes and, after the polls close, spit out the results.
That was before no-reason absentee voting became law in Michigan.
In the city of Wyoming, just under 10,000 absentee ballots were issued to voters for the Nov. 8 election.
“We have just under 50% of those back, so we expected for the next couple of weeks to be very busy with returns of absentee ballots,” Wyoming City Clerk Kelli VandenBerg said Wednesday.
Just because the ballots came in before Election Day doesn’t mean they can be counted any earlier. The pre-count handling of absentee ballots is a cumbersome process. Ballots first have to be removed from envelopes.
“When it comes to 10,000 envelopes that need to be open, there’s a certain time allotment that is required for that,” VandenBerg said.
Information on the voter must be verified, and then the ballot has to be run through a tabulator. All of this has to happen on Election Day, when election workers are also busy serving in person voters.
But new legislation is giving local clerks the option of preparing those ballots ahead of time. It allows election workers to take ballots out of the envelope, verify the voter information and then lock the ballots away again until they can be counted on Election Day.
Election workers in Wyoming will begin to pre-process absentee ballots on Monday.
“We really think that pre-processing will help expedite the actual processing of ballots on Election Day if we can get that opening and verification process completed on Monday,” VandenBerg said.
But not all clerks have taken advantage of the pre-processing option.
In Walker, returned absentee ballots are stacking at the rate of about 100 a day at the clerk’s office.
“We definitely see an increase. I think people find them and realize, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get that in,'” city Clerk Deborah Goudy said.
Out of the 5,313 absentee ballots issued to Walker voters, Goudy says nearly half have been returned.
But she’s taken a different approach to getting those ballots ready to be counted.
Instead of calling her absentee ballot board in a day early, they’ll come in an hour early on election day.
“We’re going to have our counting board in at 6:30 in the morning,” Goudy said. “We also have an opener for our envelopes, so we can run those through a little quicker than just hand opening each one.”
For more information on how to vote absentee and to track you ballot once it’s completed, go to michigan.gov/vote.