Voters show up in droves for ‘smooth’ Election Day

Statewide turnout may set records with 19,000 same-day voter registrations

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Voters could be waiting on more precise results from Tuesday’s election well into Wednesday afternoon, but precincts across Greater Lansing were buzzing with activity throughout the day.

And if absentee ballots already tallied are any indication, turnout is expected to set records.

State officials counted more than 3.2 million returned absentee ballots — or 92% of those sent — by 4:30 p.m. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said absentee counting was going smoothly and labeled precincts as “islands of calm, welcoming a steady stream of voters” during the day.

Elections officials also expected about another 1.8 million in-person votes in Michigan, pushing statewide totals past the more than 4.87 million votes tallied in 2016, according to news reports.

In Lansing, turnout estimations for in-person voting were relatively as polls closed at 8 p.m. after 13 hours. City Clerk Chris Swope labeled turnout as “good” as lines evaporated. 

Same-day registrations also set records. By 4:30 p.m., nearly 19,000 Michigan voters had registered and voted on Election Day — surpassing an all-time high of 13,000 set during the March primary. Most same-day registrations were reportedly in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids. State election officials reported nearly 250 were Lansing residents.

Thousands made their way into several dozen precincts across Ingham County on Tuesday. Several polling locations saw long lines in the morning that slowly tapered off by the mid-afternoon. Officials described the scene in Lansing as “steady, but not overly busy.”

The surge in absentee voting, as expected, seemed to make for more manageable crowds. Said a spokesman for Swope as the day wound down: “It’s really been going smooth today.”

Several residents lined up outside St. Stephen Lutheran Church on Waverly Road in Lansing by 8 a.m. Nearly 200 people were also outside Waverly East Intermediate School by 8:15 a.m. The parking lot at Swope’s satellite office on Washington Avenue in south Lansing was packed for most of the day.

Among the first voters at St. Stephen was Raquel Lopez. She planned to tick the bubble for Joe Biden — adding her vote to nearly 100,000 absentee ballots already received from across Ingham County, many of which were expected to lean heavily toward the Democratic Party.

Lopez said she wants her and others’ voices to count this election. That’s why she waited with several others early in the morning to “make a difference” to the country’s future, she added.

At Waverly East Intermediate School, Mariann Smith was in line to vote for President Donald Trump. She said she waited to vote in-person — like nearly 200 others who lined up there by 8:15 a.m.— because she didn’t trust the integrity of the absentee voting process.

“It has more security to see the success of the ballot going in,” Smith added.

By 12:30 p.m., more than 300 ballots were cast in person at precincts 3 and 11, two of three precincts housed at the Hannah Community Center in East Lansing. In the progressive Precinct No. 11, about 1,400 of 1,500 absentee ballots that were sent out had already been returned.

Precinct Chairwoman Marie Wicks also reported seeing more younger voters than usual — like East Lansing voter Samantha Stewart, who described the election with only one word: “insanity.”

“There’s just a lot going on right now,” she said. “Whoever wins, something is going to happen.”

Stewart, like many other voters who came out to cast their in-person ballots, said social issues like women’s rights and the Black Lives Matter movement ultimately pushed her to the polls.

At Meridian Township Hall, about 10 voters were signing up hourly since polls opened. Though not a polling place itself, voters could still go there to register and to drop off absentee ballots.

Garrett Christensen, 19, of Okemos, registered at the hall and filled out his ballot on Tuesday.

“I feel like I have a say in something,” he said.

Though Christensen declined to name his presidential pick, he said he decided on his candidate by watching news and hearing what policies he liked best. His mother, Rachel Christensen, also watched as her son registered. She also planned to vote by later that afternoon.

“It’s the direction of the country, whether we go more communist or socialist or stay a democracy, which is what we fought for initially,” Christensen told a reporter on the scene.

By 2:45 p.m., another 262 votes had been cast in Precinct No. 26 at Lansing’s Southside Community Center. Said precinct chairwoman Mary Morgan: “Everything’s gone very smoothly.”

Lansing resident Iman Manuel, who said he lost friends for supporting Trump, thinks a Biden presidency would be a “disaster” for the U.S. economy. Though “terrified” of a Biden presidency, he also said he’d expect U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden's running mate, to replace him as president in the first year.

“I think we would lose the America we know,” Manuel told a reporter. “Harris terrifies me more.”

Still, Manuel added: “No matter what happens today, we’re all Americans.”

Lansing resident Jacala Harris, who said she has always voted for Democrats. Cast his Biden vote at Holt High School in Delhi Township. One of the two precincts housed at the high school had collected nearly 600 in-person votes by 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

At one point, Harris said she wasn’t sure how to cast her vote. Her father eventually persuaded her to vote for Biden. “If you want change, you have to get up and speak your mind,” she said.

With a focus on the presidency, Lansing resident Alex Kalil said he didn’t learn about the statewide ballot initiatives until he saw them listed on his ballot. Among them: a proposal to amend the state constitution to allow for state oil and gas funds to be used for maintenance projects and a requirement that cops obtain a warrant to search electronic devices.

“No one was talking about these,” Kalil said, noting he still voted yes on all three proposals.

Anita Groh and her daughter Tiffani Abraham also supported the proposals, though both of them also admitted to not knowing anything about the issues until reading about them on the ballot.

There were no signs of any local “army” of poll-watchers stationed in Greater Lansing, as President Donald Trump had called for earlier this month. Nor was there any visible presence of an armed militia or others attempting to intimidate voters before they arrived to cast their vote.

Gillian Dawson, chairwoman of Precinct No. 45 at the Foster Community Center in Lansing, reported no indication of voter intimidation. Most of those who came inside were also wearing face masks.

Benson also reported earlier in the day that she wasn’t aware of any voter intimidation issues across the state either. She also had no immediate indication of increased or decreased turnout.

Still, city and township clerks across Greater Lansing have been on high alert in recent weeks amid a deluge of misinformation over voter fraud, but none have immediate reason for concern.

Given a drastic increase in absentee voting this year, residents might be waiting on a concrete set of results until Wednesday morning or afternoon, but they’re expected to be reliable as clerks continue to vouch for enhanced security measures ahead of next week’s election.

Benson issued a directive in October that banned firearms from within 100 feet of a polling location, but the order order was shot down by the Michigan Court of Appeals. It’s already a crime to intimidate people with guns, making a gun ban unnecessary, it ruled.

A reporter saw nobody openly carrying weapons into local polling locations. Elections officials from across Greater Lansing also didn’t report any other significant issues at any precincts.

The Lansing Police Department still vowed to keep more cops on the streets and be particularly responsive to any suspected efforts to suppress the vote. Swope wasn’t expecting armed militias at precincts in Lansing, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, he explained last week.

Nessel also outlined a plan last week to dispatch Michigan State Police troopers to counties where the threat of unlawful voter intimidation may be the highest. None of the clerks who spoke to City Pulse last week expected the Greater Lansing region to require those added resources.

 

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