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SOS Benson on how high number of no-reason absentee ballots could impact election day

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson
Jocelyn Benson for Secretary of State
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says that if state law prohibiting the counting of absentee ballots before Election Day doesn't change, voters could see a delay in the reporting of election results.

The passage of Proposal 3 last November means any registered voter in the state can now request an absentee ballot. It seems like Michigan residents are taking full advantage of that. 

Last week's election saw a huge uptick in the number of people who voted absentee. And that has put some county clerks in a time crunch as they work to count a flood of absentee ballots.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says more than 120,000 people voted using an absentee ballot in last week’s elections. 

Under current state law, absentee ballots cannot be counted until the polls open on Election Day. Benson would like to see that law updated to give vote counters more time to finish their job. She says she would also support allocating funds for the purchase of more high-speed vote tabulators. 

“The bottom line is if you have twice as many ballots that you’re counting as you were in the past election cycle, you need more time [or] you need more machines,” Benson said.

Michigan's Secretary of State would prefer extra ballot processing time be allowed before Election Day. But Benson says she's also open to adding more time after polls close, as long as votes are counted “accurately, effectively, and efficiently.”

If existing state law regarding absentee vote counting doesn’t change, Benson says she thinks Michiganders could potentially have to wait “several days” before election results are formally announced. 

“This is something that we’re sounding the alarm on now, and we have the benefit of seeing other states who have gone through this, who have reached the same solution and conclusion,” Benson said. “It’s to me an easy change to make if you do so securely and carefully.”

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that absentee ballots couldn't be counted until polls close at 8:00 p.m. That is incorrect. Processing can begin when the polls open. The story has been corrected above.

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