Michigan is sending postcards to more than 4 million registered voters, encouraging them to apply to vote absentee in the November election. The state also plans to spend millions in order to reimburse local cities that offer pre-paid return envelopes for absentee ballots.
The moves are the latest by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to advocate for casting a ballot before Election Day, an initiative aimed at increasing voter participation while preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
“Last week’s primary election was a success in large part because a record number of voters cast their ballots from home, helping all voters and election workers stay safe during the pandemic,” Benson said in a news release Thursday.
“To ensure similar success and safety in November, when turnout is expected to double or even triple, voters must know they have the right to vote from home and how to do so.”
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More than 1.6 million voters used absentee ballots for the August primary, more than any other election in state history. But Benson anticipates 3 million Michigan voters or more could ask for the ballots ahead of the general election.
This anticipated massive surge – a result of both pandemic fears and a 2018 law change that allows any registered voter to request an absentee ballot for any reason – could cause a delay in election results as clerks try to process millions of ballots.
In May, Benson mailed absentee ballot applications to all 7.7 million registered voters in the state. The move was heralded by voting rights advocates, but Republicans locally and nationally decried the effort, labeling it an avenue to increased voter fraud.
Experts note voter fraud is incredibly rare, but President Donald Trump continues to repeat false claims that ballots cast in the mail will lead to a rigged or corrupt election. On Thursday, he noted in a television interview that an underfunded Postal Service would likely have difficulty processing millions of ballots mailed across the country.
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Benson’s office will mail the postcards to the 4.4 million active registered voters who have not already applied for an absentee ballot and are not already signed up to automatically receive an absentee ballot for every election. The mailing, set to begin next Thursday and run through Sept. 20, is expected to cost $1.4 million, paid for with federal coronavirus funds.
While some jurisdictions may have ballots ready earlier, state law says voters can apply for ballots starting on Aug. 20. Clerks must start mailing those ballots and have them available for voters to pick up in person by Sept. 24.
An additional $5 million in federal funds – provided through the CARES and Help America Vote acts – will go toward several initiatives that clerks and voters have said would make it easier to vote absentee and process the ballots:
$2 million to local communities to cover the cost of pre-paid envelopes for absentee ballots. Oakland County already has committed as much as
$575,000 toward pre-paid envelopes this fall.
$1.5 million to any city that orders new ballot envelopes so that they better comply with U.S. Postal Service standards. In theory, the Postal Service can more quickly and effectively deliver envelopes that they can clearly identify as absentee ballots.
$2 million for cities to buy additional equipment to make obtaining and processing absentee ballots easier, such as ballot drop boxes, high-speed counting machines and automatic letter openers.
Voters are encouraged to mail ballots as early as they can ahead of the general election, but mailing
ballots is not the only way they
can be cast. Voters can drop them off at their local clerk’s office or place them in ballot drop boxes, if these are offered in the appropriate jurisdiction.