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Grand Rapids completes absentee ballot count Wednesday night

The city had over 59,000 absentee ballots returned.

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — Absentee votes nearly quadrupled in Michigan's second-largest city during the 2020 presidential election, and the count of those ballots wrapped around 6 p.m. Wednesday. 

In 2016, about 16,000 absentee ballots were cast by Grand Rapids voters, and in 2020, that number jumped to over 59,000. 

The surge in absentee ballots comes as no surprise due to this being the first presidential election following the passage of Proposal 3 in 2018, which expanded access to absentee voting, along with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic keeping many from the polls. 

Statewide over 3 million people voted absentee, shattering previous records, according to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Grand Rapids City Clerk Joel Hondorp says the city purchased extra equipment and brought on extra people to help process and count the ballots. However, on Tuesday, they ran into issues with tabulators. 

Hondorp said some of the tabulators were not taking in ballots in large batches as expected due to a paper size issue, so they were forced to run them in batches of 25, which slowed the process. 

Election workers along with challengers from the Democrat and Republican parties reviewed absentee ballots with irregularities (i.e. if it had a write-in candidate or improperly filled in bubbles), which also took some time, Hondorp said. 

At the absentee counting board, which is located inside Devos Place, dozens of election workers put in hours of work to first pre-process ballots on Monday (extra time was granted through Senate Bill 757 passed earlier this year), and to then process and count ballots starting 7 a.m. Tuesday. 

Benson had pushed the legislature to pass a bill that would give local clerks extra time to vote, which is allowed in other states, but that did not happen. She said during a Wednesday press conference that that is the reason its taking more time now to count. 

 Watch Benson's press conference here.

"Our state legislature chose not to make that change to our laws, and here we are in Michigan where our counting processes continuing long after the polls have closed," she said. "But rest assured we're focused on counting every single ballot, that's our focus, every single valid ballot in Michigan will be counted."

Around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Benson said just over 100,000 ballots (mainly absentee ballots) were left to be counted in places including, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint and Kalamazoo.

Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons had previously estimated the county would have results by Wednesday evening, Grand Rapids was the county's last jurisdiction awaiting results. 

To view the county's unofficial results, click here.

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