Voting by absentee ballot began Thursday in Michigan.
Absentee ballots were put in the mail to people who requested them. Registered voters can also stop by clerks’ offices to fill out their ballots.
At the same time, the Legislature approved and sent to Governor Gretchen Whitmer a bill that could help speed up the process of tallying absentee votes on election night.
The bill would let election workers open protective sleeves so absentee ballots can be processed more quickly on election night. That would make it faster and easier for workers to remove the ballots and run them through counting machines.
Republicans had resisted the legislation, but came to acknowledge that the growing popularity of absentee voting and a shortage of poll workers amid the COVID-19 crisis meant 2020 would not be a normal election year.
“We’d like to say that we have enough staff, and enough machinery, and enough space in this socially distanced era to not need this, but this is just not the case,” said state Representative Julie Calley (R-Portland). “We don’t have enough staff. We don’t have enough equipment in many locations, and they need additional time.”
These rules would apply only to the 2020 election, and would require another law for them to become permanent. This bill would only apply to cities and townships of 25,000 people or more.
State Senator Ruth Johnson (R-Holly) is a former Michigan Secretary of State, who voted for the bill on the proviso that it’s a one-time experiment.
“We must improve Election Day efficiency while also protecting the integrity of our elections as our local clerks prepare for the number of people voting by mail in the November 3rd elections to more than double the amount from 2016,” Johnson said in a printed statement.
State Senator Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte) was one of a handful of “no” votes. He said the bill leaves some room for bad actors to get hold of tamper with ballots between when the sleeves are opened and when they are counted.
“And I really hope that those of you who are voting for this don’t regret this decision on November 3rd or November 4th,” he said.
Supporters of the bill said a post-election audit would reveal that sort of problem in a close race.
Absentee voting is expected to play a decisive role in this year’s elections.
In a web conference with progressive activists, Governor Gretchen Whitmer noted the election in Michigan was very close in 2016.
“The whole world knows that there are a handful of states that theres’ going to be an incredible amount of pressure on,” she said.
Without speaking specifically to the bill, Whitmer said accuracy is more important than speed, and she does not expect all the votes will be tallied on election night.
“We want to get a result that counts every vote, and that we can all have confidence in, and that is as quick as possible,” she said. “And by ‘quick’ I mean days.”