by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor
With just over three weeks left before the general election, Nov. 3, and ballots starting to be sent out, Presque Isle County clerk Ann Marie Main has one urgent message for those deciding to head to the mailbox instead of the polls: “return it as soon as possible.”
It was the last week in September, local clerks started to send out ballots to voters who filled out absentee voter applications that are the same as mail-in ballots.
“It may be true that there is information out there about the courts saying that if the returning ballots are postmarked Nov. 2 and received within 14 days, they will be accepted,” said Main. “But it is a court order and I am just worried that there could be a change. I don’t want people to become disenfranchised now…and wait until the last minute.”
Main says some ballots have been dropped off at her office; however, she would prefer to have them left with the local township/city clerks.
The addresses to local clerks should be on the envelopes provided. The phone numbers of the local clerks are on the county’s website.
“I don’t have a complete list, but some township halls and both city halls (Rogers City, Onaway) have drop boxes,” she said.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson took part in a Zoom meeting last Thursday hosted by Richard Lamb, president of the Michigan Press Association (MPA), as part of the MPA’s virtual convention. Benson called this a historic election cycle where more residents are expected to vote than ever before.
“Citizens can track their ballots, if they are voting through the mail, or from home, at Michigan.gov/vote,” said Benson. “That really is the silver lining in 2020. Citizens have more options than ever before to vote this year.”
It was only two years ago that state voters approved a ballot measure that allows for no-reason absentee voting, and with the novel coronavirus still putting fear in some people who don’t want to go out and risk contamination, application requests have increased dramatically.
To try and prevent fraud, once a voter’s request is received by the local clerk, the voter’s signature on the request is checked against their registration record before a ballot is issued.
Individuals must be a registered voter to receive an absentee ballot.
To alleviate additional concerns regarding organizations who are sending absentee ballot applications to voters, “If you sent one in, don’t be confused that you have to send it in again.”
Michigan citizens are already voting at historic levels. As of earlier this week, there were 2.7 million who requested their mail-in ballot; 2.6 million who have received their ballot; and 380,000 who already have voted. Benson said the votes cannot be tabulated until 7 a.m. on Election Day.
“This will be our fourth election this year,” she said. “We have met every challenge and in spite of criticism from all sides, we have really stayed the course and I proud that we have withstood record turnout, record numbers of people voting by mail and securing accurate elections.”
Benson believed, by talking with MPA members, that the word can get out that residents will have faith in the democratic process, “amidst what we anticipate will be escalating efforts to try and undermine that faith of the accuracy of the results.”
Like Main, Benson wants residents to return the ballots as soon as possible.
“After Oct. 19, I would use a drop box or your clerk’s office, regardless of what the court says…we want citizens to have certainty that their vote is going to count. The best way to do that is to vote early, plan to vote and track your vote. Do not wait until the last minute.”
Given the number of absentee ballots that will be processed, Benson said that the final tabulation in Michigan may not be known until Friday.
“I have said quite consistently we are setting expectations for Friday. We hope it will be sooner, but basic math would tell us Friday,” said Benson. “In August, we had 1.6 million who voted by mail and everyone one of those was tabulated and counted by Wednesday night.” She said with twice as many to count, it may take twice as long.
Benson did say more people have been recruited and there are more machines that will be available.