Election relief arrives for Michigan poll workers as absentee ballots break records

"Voting in Michigan has never been easier or more convenient. We just have to go out and do it."

Actress Angela Basset's sentiment rang true during a virtual call to get out encourage residents to cast their ballot, especially on Thursday, Michigan's first day of early voting.

Along with ringing in the new voting cycle came a bit of encouraging lawmaking news for Michigan election clerks; the legislature had approved language that would allow for more processing time of absentee ballots.

The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Amid one of the country's most tumultuous election cycles that have been made even more challenging by the pandemic, the state's poll workers received a bit of good news on Thursday when a bill passed to the governor's desk gives clerks 10 hours of extra time to prepare absentee ballots to be counted. That means removing the sealed envelope containing the ballot from the mailing envelope and readying it for counting when election day rolls around.

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The tabulation preparation would take place from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday, the day before the election.

With the state nearing 2.5 million requests for absentee ballots, the State Department is already preparing for a record number of absentee votes to be mailed in.

Michigan's election system has never faced such a large mail vote count. Until 2018, nobody could vote absentee without a reason.

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Since a ballot initiative during the midterms changed that, numbers for mail-in-voting have climbed each election cycle. Once the pandemic struck and voters had more reason to stay at home, the numbers spiked

About 1.7 million ballots were cast via mail during the August primary race, out of 2.1 million that was requested. The general election has already broken that record. Secretary Jocelyn Benson anticipates as many as 3 million absentee ballots could be cast.

Concerns of a potential voter backlog grew after delays in the primary election vote count dragged on well into the following afternoon. To combat a backlog in a potential swing stage on Nov. 3, lawmakers voted to allow communities with 25,000 or more residents to process absentee ballots sooner.

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About 72 municipalities are eligible for early processing.

The bill also allows clerks to use the second shift of workers to help count absentee ballots since clerks that count them often become fatigued by tabulating votes for 24 hours straight.

Another amendment was also added that requires clerks to notify voters if they found a mistake with their absentee vote. Often, this could be a missing signature on the envelope, which clerks use to certify with a signature they have on file.

Changes in Michigan election law haven't just come from the legislature, however. A judge last week also ruled that any ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 must be counted, even if they arrive after election day.

State officials have been concerned that delays in the mail service could lead to more votes being thrown out due to their late arrival.