No statewide ballot questions? No competitive statewide political race? Very few compelling races anywhere?
No matter. A record 2.2 million Michiganders voted in last week’s primary.
Last year, the Republicans and Democrats had a competitive gubernatorial race going on. The Republicans had a U.S. Senate primary to work through. That race brought in 2.1 million ballots.
This year had none of that. A couple of congressional districts didn’t even have primaries on either side.
Is it President Donald Trump? COVID-19 boredom? Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson mailing out absentee ballot applications? A combination of all three? Either way, people wanted to cast ballots and they did.
The surge in interest has elections officials projecting turnout as high as 6 million in November. For some context, the highest number of souls to ever cast ballots in Michigan was 5 million in 2008. That year 66.2% of the state’s voting age population cast a ballot.
It took the city of Detroit until 6:30 a.m. to report usable primary election results last Wednesday. Kalamazoo finally reported its absentee ballot results around 5 a.m. Some Wayne County communities weren’t done until after lunch the next day.
That’s with 2.2 million ballots. If we have 6 million ballots and we hope to have results by breakfast Nov. 4, a few things will need to happen.
1.) Not registering on Election Day. Maybe with Michigan State and a bunch of other colleges not having a lot of in-person classes, this won’t be as big of a deal. But hordes of 18, 19, 20 and 21-year-olds showing up at East Lansing City Hall after class on Nov. 3, hoping to register to vote AND cast a ballot could stretch the process well into the night.
I know same-day registration is a thing now, but just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. The secretary of state lets people register on-line now. It seriously couldn’t be easier.
2.) Preparing ballots to be counted ahead of time. Florida, Ohio, California and Arizona are among the states that allow local clerks to open absentee ballot envelopes before Election Day. It may sound like a small thing, but flattening ballots, and getting them ready to feed into the Machine is apparently a huge a time saver.
Michigan would need to change state law to make this happen. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey wasn’t hot on the idea in February, but he was supposed to speak with Benson on it this week, so it’s still a possibility. The clerks are pushing for it. Former Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, now a state senator, is pushing for it.
Shirkey is worried about fraud or someone taking a sneak peek at the results, but if protections are put in place, it’s possible he will have a change of heart.
3.) Don’t count on the U.S. Postal Service. At least 1,000 primary ballots showed up at local clerks offices after the 8 p.m. Aug. 4 deadline to turn in ballots. In the grand scheme of how many people voted, this is a sliver of a percent. Still, the postal service is scaling back overtime to cut costs and, some ballots postmarked on Aug. 1 didn’t make it in time to be counted.
Benson and Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum is urging voters to drop their ballots in the mail at least a week before. If you’re a Lansing resident, you can track your ballot through the mail online.
4.) Drop boxes make a lot of sense. With COVID-19 continuing to be a concern for particularly older residents, Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope said the city’s drop boxes outside of City Hall or outside the 2500 South Washington Election Unit received plenty of use, particularly close to Election Day.
If you’re voting absentee, that may be the way to go.
(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS is firstname.lastname@example.org.)