LANSING, Mich. (AP) — More than 2.6 million Michigan voters have turned in their absentee ballots and the state is still waiting on almost 700,000 absentee ballots that had been sent out and yet to be returned with only days before Tuesday’s election.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is urging voters to drop off their ballots in-person to ensure mail delays don’t cause their ballots to not be counted, though voting in-person on Election Day remains an option. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Due to changes made in 2018 to voter laws and now growing public health concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, more Michigan residents are voting absentee than ever before. The previous record was set this year in the August primary at 1.6 million absentee ballots.
Ingham County saw 30,684 absentee ballots cast in the 2016 election, County Clerk Barb Byrum said in a media call Thursday alongside Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope. For Tuesday's election, around 79,000 ballots had been returned as of Thursday.
Lansing early voter Stasi Castilla worried about getting COVID-19 if she voted in-person on Election Day. Though Benson has said all polling places will have proper personal protection equipment, Castilla said that if early voting wasn't an option for her, she would not participate in the election.
“It's important to vote, but I probably wouldn't have voted because my health is more important.” Castilla said turning in her ballot on Saturday.
The numbers of absentee ballots received are surging across the state. Pontiac City Clerk Garland Doyle said on Thursday in a separate media call that the city has received three times as many absentee ballots than the last presidential election.
In the interest of public safety and to fight back against voter intimidation, Benson banned the open carry of firearms with 100 feet of polling places. Courts have blocked the ban.
There's going to be a poll monitor outside all nine of Pontiac's polling places Doyle said to combat voter intimidation and confrontation training has been given to workers to handle aggression. In addition, each polling place will have a social distancing monitor.
Okemos voter Bri Griffin said on Saturday before she cast her ballot that she thought about the long lines and crowds and opted not to vote Tuesday out of concern over tensions.
“This is a pretty intense election, not that anything will happen on Election Day, but I wouldn't want to put myself in the position,” Briffin said.
Fears surrounding COVID-19 are thinning out the numbers of poll workers on election day, too.
Swope said that although none of Lansing's poll workers has reported that they have COVID-19, several have backed out due to concerns. However, interest in working at polls is flourishing in Lansing and 600 workers will be there.
Swope said he's finding it easy to let voters know within 48 hours if something is wrong with their absentee ballot, usually doing it within a few hours so it can be corrected and counted.
Clerks are unsung heroes, Byrum said.
“I know of clerks visiting people at their home, calling them, emailing them, going to the hospital because someone went into labor early,” Byrum said.
Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.