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High voter turnout for May 5 election despite COVID-19

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said even with the election being done primarily by mail, voter turnout is higher than average.

LANSING, Mich. — On Tuesday, May 5, about 50 communities in Michigan will be holding their first elections since the first cases of COVID-19 were documented in the state. 

This election, though, will primarily be conducted through the mail. 

"We encourage people to exercise that right to do in the safest manner they can," said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer during a press briefing on Monday, May 4. 

The May 5 election has local ballot items, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said her office asked these communities to delay items on their ballot until a later date. About half were able to do so, but for the other half there are time sensitive items on the ballot.

"Others informed us that among other things, local schools would not have the funds to operate this fall if a summer millage was not voted on," said Benson.

RELATED: What's on the May 5 ballot in Muskegon County

The Michigan Secretary of State mailed absentee voting applications to all registered voters within communities holding an election. This resulted in 740,000 people to request their ballot be mailed to them. 

The state also covered the cost of all the postage. 

In order to account for voters with disabilities, the state is also requiring that one polling location in each jurisdiction should remain open on Tuesday. Benson said this will provide citizens "a limited opportunity to, if needed, register to vote request their ballot and return it in person."

Local clerks were given guidance on how to ensure social distancing procedures are in place, said Benson. The state also provided provided masks, gloves, hand sanitizers wipes, and other personal protective equipment for election workers.

RELATED: Voters urged to complete and return absentee ballot applications immediately for May 5 mail-in election

After Whitmer signed an executive order on March 27 expanding absentee voting in the election, the state asked for volunteers to help process and count ballots. Many older residents typically volunteer, but they are staying home to avoid getting the virus. 

"We also know that it takes people to carry out any election," said Benson. "So we recruited more than 1,800 Michiganders throughout the state to assist clerks and ensure that anyone who did not feel comfortable working for any reason was not required to do so."

Benson said the voter turnout for this election is at 20% right now, and she predicted it will be more than twice the average amount for May elections, which is usually around 12%. 

"More than 140,000 citizens have returned to their ballots by mail, demonstrating that even in times of great uncertainty people want to vote, and they want to weigh in on important local issues," she said. 

Benson said for everyone who is voting in-person Tuesday, they should wear a mask, practice safe social distancing and clean their hands after voting. 

Michigan has two statewide elections this year, the August primary and the general election in November. The Michigan Secretary of State's office will be preparing for those elections in a similar way and encouraging people to vote absentee. 

"The reality is in Michigan every citizen has a right to vote from home, and so we're going to be spending every moment we can between now and our two statewide elections this year, making sure that every citizen every voter has the ability to do that to exercise that choice," said Benson. 

On the previous election day, March 10, Michigan reported its first two cases of COVID-19. 

Watch the full press briefing here:

Gov. Whitmer's update on state's COVID-19 response

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun are giving an update.

Posted by 13 On Your Side on Monday, May 4, 2020

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