Benson: Take ballot to clerk or drop box so it’s counted

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LANSING, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — Michigan’s top election official is urging people with an absentee ballot to return it to their local clerk’s office or drop box instead of using the mail to ensure it’s counted in the Aug. 4 statewide primary.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson gave the guidance Tuesday, a week before the election. A ballot must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Night to be counted.

Voters can return their ballot to the drop box in their city or township. A list can be found online.

“At this point, we encourage people to use the drop boxes,” Benson said during a virtual press conference Wednesday. “You have to use your local drop box because that is the one in which your local clerk will pick up the ballot on election night and begin the tabulation process.”

She said this election will serve as a pilot, of sorts, to find out where more drop boxes are needed. She said the city of Detroit will likely need more.

The drop box in downtown Kalamazoo where voters can submit their absentee ballots. (July 29, 2020)

Benson also said all absentee ballot requests should be made in person at the clerk’s office. Voters should prepare to both request and vote their ballot in the same visit, due to the possibility of postal delays.

Absentee ballots being postmarked by election day but not arriving by election day is the number one reason they are rejected, Benson said. Other common rejection reasons include signatures on return envelopes not matching those on file or voters forgetting to sign the envelopes.

The secretary added that her office has provided personal protection equipment and training to municipal clerks so they are ready for in-person polling. You can still sign up to be an election worker, Benson said, noting that even if you aren’t needed next week, you could be needed in November.

BENSON CALLS FOR EARLY PREPARATION LAW

Nearly 2 million absentee ballots had been issued as of Tuesday, 3.6 times the 546,000 that were issued at the same point in 2016. About 903,000 had been returned, a nearly threefold increase from four years ago.

Absentee voting is on the rise following the approval of no-reason absentee voting in 2018 and is being emphasized as a safer option than in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, Benson said that while voters may hear misinformation about the safety of absentee voting — obviously referencing President Donald Trump, who has said mail-in voting is ripe for fraud, without naming him — she promised the efforts of her office have “made it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”

Benson, a Democrat, called on the Republican-led state Legislature to pass changes that would allow poll workers to prepare ballots for counting before election day. She said 18 other states already have procedures in place letting them arrange ballots for counting early. She said even one more day would be a “significant help.”

Other proposals — which are in various stages before the Legislature — would allow ballots that are postmarked by election day but arrive later to be counted, call on clerks to reach out to voters over signature problems and allow the electronic return of overseas military voters.

EXPECT SLOWER RESULTS

The high number of absentee ballots is going to slow the counting of votes, Benson said, explaining that some municipalities are getting twice or three times as many as they ever have before.

“We are asking for patience,” Benson said, saying people should not expect to see results quickly after polls close.

Next week, it could take until Wednesday or Thursday for all results to come through. In November, with an larger turnout expected for the presidential election, it could take even longer.

“I think all of us would love more time, as well, to ensure on the back end we’re able to deliver results as effectively, efficiently and, again, as accurately on the front end to, if nothing else, again, minimize that space between when the polls close and when the results are announced because that space … creates at a lot of opportunity for bad actors to sow seeds of doubt about the integrity of the process,” Benson said.

She said without legislative action, the only thing her office can do now is make sure clerks’ offices are adequately staffed and provide enough equipment. She said federal funding paid for things like high-speed ballot tabulators and automatic envelope openers.

“I think we all want to prioritize accuracy over speed and that’s what we’re preparing for,” Benson said. “However, we’ve also tried to increase capacity of our clerks and election officials to efficiently ballots as quickly as they can, assuming no changes in the law, beginning at 7 a.m. on election day.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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