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“We’re behind on this,” clerks say of Michigan’s absentee voting system

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It was a long night for tabulators in Iowa after Monday's Democratic primary caucuses. Malfunctions in a new app being used to report results led to major delays. Michigan's voting system is very different than the Iowa caucuses, but there's a lot changing this year. One big change is the expected influx of mail-in votes now that any voter can request an absentee ballot. 

Tina Barton, clerk for the city of Rochester Hills, and Jan Roncelli, clerk for Bloomfield Township, talked about their concerns with the current system for counting absentee ballots, and what needs to change to avoid a clerical nightmare in Michigan during November election. 

Barton said in a tweet Tuesday morning she doesn’t want Michigan “to be the Iowa of the November election." Absentee ballots take much longer to count than day-of votes, and Michiganders have already been taking advantage of mail-in voting in higher numbers since Proposal 3passed in 2018. 

“You can’t do it all in one day and do it efficiently and accurately without being there for 24-plus hours. That’s just not reasonable to ask anyone to do.” Roncelli said.

Why do absentee ballots take so long to count? It’s not the tabulation, but the physical process to open, check, and recheck the ballots before they are put through the tabulation machine.

“They can’t do more than 200-250 an hour at a table. It takes forever to do that,” Roncelli said. 

Both Barton and Roncelli would like to see changes to state law to give clerks more time to count absentee ballots. Barton points out that the Bipartisan Policy Center released a reportin January recommending that election administrators be able to process absentee ballots 7 days before election day. That's already common practice in other parts of the country, Barton said. 

“I think the Legislature should trust us. We are all clerks that take an oath of office. If any clerk violates that oath, there are measures in place to deal with that,” Barton said. “This is our profession, and we know what we’re doing, and we know that we need more time." 

This post was written by production assistant Catherine Nouhan. 

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