GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — In the city of Grand Rapids, voter turnout for the August 2020 election has already surpassed that of August 2016 based solely on absentee ballots.
City Clerk Joel Hondorp said the city has issued over 34,000 ballots and 16,000 have been returned. In 2016, a total of about 15,000 people voted.
A surge in absentee ballots is a trend jurisdictions throughout the state are seeing for several reasons, the most recent being the Secretary of State mailing all registered voters an absentee application in May as the state continues to fight off COVID-19.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Wednesday that she does expect delays to election results due to the influx in absentee ballots.
"It very well may take several more days to get the final total for all the elections," Benson said during a virtual press conference.
She asked for voters to have patience with election workers, who will likely be working long hours to finalize results.
Benson places blame on lawmakers for not passing legislation that would have eased the burden of additional absentee ballots. Proposed measures, she says, could have allowed election workers to begin processing absentee ballots ahead of 7 a.m. on Aug. 4. Benson also brought up legislation that would have allowed for mail in ballots received after 8 p.m. to still be counted.
"Continued inaction by lawmakers, when we need their support and partnership now more than ever, will equate to a dereliction of duty," Benson said.
Republicans have criticized Benson, who is a Democrat, for her mailing out of absentee ballot applications saying it opened up the election to increased voter fraud. Several lawsuits were also filed against Benson for what some have called an illegal act.
No reason absentee ballot voting is legal in Michigan following the passage of Proposal 3 in 2018.
"Despite false rhetoric, misinformation scare tactics that have circulated for months from various different actors and voices, and it will no doubt escalate in the months ahead, Michigan citizens and voters know that voting from home is safe, convenient and secure, and this is reflected in the enormous embracing of this option they have to vote by mail," Benson said.
The state has sent out a record breaking nearly 2 million absentee ballots. So far, just over 900,000 have been returned. Benson urged absentee voters to drop off their ballots at drop boxes or at their local clerk's office to ensure it's counted. Benson's office created a list of local drop box locations to aid voters.
In Grand Rapids, Hondorp isn't expecting results to be delayed extensively, he estimates several hours.
'We will not have results at 9 p.m., but we will work diligently through the time that we have with the equipment that we have," he said.
He says extra time to process the ballots would have been helpful. His office brought on more election workers and added another high speed tabulator to help meet the increase.
On Saturday, the Grand Rapids clerk's office will be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. to issue absentee ballots and accept voter registrations. Voters can either visit the second floor of City Hall (parking is validated) or Election Central at 201 Market SW.
The ballot drop box, which can be access at any time, is located at 300 Ottawa NW directly across from Calder Plaza
Absentee ballots must be submitted by 8 p.m. on election day.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly noted that proposed legislation would have allowed for early counting of absentee ballots. It's since been fixed.