LANSING, Mich. — Several counties across Michigan are scheduled to hold elections Tuesday, May 5, 2020. It's the first election in the state since COVID-19 was confirmed in Michigan. That confirmation came March 10 — the same day as the presidential primary.
While Tuesday's election is relevantly small and without any statewide issues, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said it was important not to postpone the vote entirely during COVID-19; instead the state encouraged Michiganders to vote by mail.
“Not just now, [but] more than ever, we have to preserve our citizens’ ability to hold their elected officials accountable, but the decisions we make now about our democracy create a precedent for how we handle democracy in every crisis,” Benson said.
Michigan voters took advantage of their new right to vote by mail in March, during the presidential primary, and Benson said she expects that trend to continue, especially during a global pandemic.
According to the Secretary of State’s Office, 228,143 absentee ballots were sent out and 146,105 were returned as of May 3. After COVID-19 hit Michigan, the state mailed absentee voter applications to all registered voters with a paid-postage envelope to return.
“With turnout for May elections averaging at roughly 13% in recent years, these numbers indicate a significant increase in participation,” Benson said Tuesday, April 28, when 86,355 absentee ballots had been returned.
If a voter wants to cast a ballot in person, the experience will be different, Benson said. First, fewer locations will be available.
“There will be people in each jurisdiction in each location — pretty much the clerk’s office — where citizens will have the opportunity to one, if they have disabilities to vote in person; and two, if they want to register to vote and vote on Election Day, they will be able to do that,” she said. “Three, if they simply want to request their ballot and return it in person, they can do that as well.”
Don’t expect to give someone a high-five while voting. Social distancing will be enforced. Workers will be wearing personal protective equipment and even the voting machines will be spread out, Benson said. It’s all to ensure the safety of everyone.
“We’ve distributed physical guidelines for every clerk’s office: This is how you create social distancing, this is how you staff it, this is where you place machines, this is how much space you’ll need. We can go into other rooms if they want to have machines in different rooms,” Benson said. “All of those things are on the table and in our guidelines based on the CDC’s guidelines that we are sending to the clerks.”
Under the last federal stimulus package, Michigan will receive $11.2 million to assist with mail voting in August and November, Benson said. It’s difficult to know what the election in August will look like, or even in November with COVID-19 being as unpredictable as it is right now. But Benson said, the election Tuesday could create a blueprint for future statewide elections.
“We’re creating a system where people, where voters do not have to choose between their health and their right to vote,” she said.
Voter registration can be checked online through the Secretary of State's website.
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