With the May Special Election now behind us, it is time to shift our focus squarely on the August Primary and November General Elections.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will exist long after the immediate danger has passed. Even if we are allowed to go back to work, health experts caution that we should not congregate in large groups in confined areas. This will impact the way we can safely run elections, as municipal and County Clerks will have to find ways to hold the election while mitigating the danger of this virus on the voting public.
Local clerks have until June 5th to relocate polling locations, something that will certainly need to be done as a result of the pandemic. For example, a polling location at a senior housing center is not going to be a safe option due to the potential for exposure. Once these polling location changes are approved, local clerks are then required to send notice to the voters of the updated location.
In addition, many of our qualified and trained elections inspectors fall into high-risk categories for falling victim to this disease. We have seen election inspectors withdraw from their positions in other states that have held elections since this outbreak for fear of being exposed to voters who may be asymptomatic carriers of the disease. If local clerks do not have qualified election inspectors, they may have to consolidate precinct locations. This could lead to mass confusion among voters if there is not sufficient time to notify voters of changes to their voting location.
There are solutions to these problems, however they will need action from all levels of government. Now is the time for the Governor and the Secretary of State to agree to send all qualified registered voters a dual absent voter ballot application for the August and November Elections. This would give each voter the opportunity to vote from home, if they choose, rather than going to their polling place. Local clerks have not budgeted for a mailing to all qualified registered voters and need the State to absorb this cost as a result of the pandemic. Further, local clerks will already be absorbing the cost of mailing a significant increase in absent voter ballots.
With the passage of Proposal 3 in 2018, Michigan Voters let us know that they support No Reason Absentee Voting and now is the time to make good use of this option. Michigan requires an application for absent voter ballots to be in writing with the voter’s signature. After that, the local clerk will mail the ballot to the voter. There are numerous security checks along the way: signature matching from the application for an absent voter ballot to the voter’s signature in the voter file, signature matching from the outside envelope of the voted ballot to the voter’s signature in the voter file or the application, and cataloging all of the transactions so that a voter may only vote one time – and track the processing of their ballot – for each election.
Time is of the essence when it comes to making decisions on moving forward with mailing out Absent Voter Ballot Applications for the next election. While the August Election may seem a long way away, the first ballots will go out in about a month. We need to get these applications in the mail to voters as soon as possible so that they have time to arrive, voters have time to fill them out, and send them back through the mail. This process could take several weeks, and that is before the voter is even issued a ballot. In addition, local clerks are already preparing to send applications to voters on their Permanent Absent Voter Ballot Application Lists. If the State then mails an application to every qualified registered voter, some may receive multiple applications, and it could result in voter confusion.
Making a clear decision early will also allow our city and township clerks to prepare adequately for the type of election we are likely to see. Preparations for an in-person election are far different than those for a majority-mailed election.
Last week, I sent a letter calling on Governor Whitmer to request Secretary of State Benson mail out dual August and November absent voter ballot applications to all qualified registered voters in the state of Michigan. It is the responsible course of action to protect our right to vote and our health and safety, and as citizens of this great state, we should expect nothing less.