Data: Absentee voter numbers from 2019 election and where to improve ahead of 2020

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Data: Absentee voter numbers from 2019 election and where to improve ahead of 2020.

Election day for 2019 is done and the votes are counted, but the results are charting an interesting path for a state that will be a battleground in 2020 for candidates looking to win the White House and several other hotly contested races.

Voter turnout for an off-year election is never the same as presidential races or even the midterm elections in 2018, which had near-presidential race numbers. Local elections, like 2019, are handled locally, which means the Secretary of State doesn’t have the results in one location. However, some of the big counties in the state had decent election turnout.

More than election turnout, was the interesting numbers from the Secretary of State’s Office for number of voters who cast a ballot absentee. For the 2019 election, 621 jurisdictions had races in Michigan and the state has data from 593 of them.

  • 421,385 absentee ballots were sent out to voters
  • 223 were undeliverable
  • 1,833 were spoiled
  • 1,902 were rejected
  • 351,449 were tabulated

That tallies to about an 83% return on absentee voters. The surge of absentee votes counted later in the evening shifted some races across the state. The Secretary of State said it’s difficult to look at the percentage of voters who used the absentee route versus traditional poll-voting because many clerks have yet to certify the numbers.

In 2018, 27% of the votes were via absentee. In 2016, when Michigan and the rest of the country voted for president, 26% of the votes came in via absentee ballots. In 2014, the number was 25%. No-reason absentee voting was not an option for voters during those elections, however.

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum raised concerns about the length of time it takes election workers to tabulate absentee votes.

“I see unofficial election night results not being able to be posted on election night because all the absentee ballots are still being processed,” she said.

In 2018, Michigan voters approved Proposal 3; making it legal for people to vote absentee without a reason as well as allowed same-day voter registration. Supporters of Proposal 3 hailed it as an expansion of voters’ rights. Bryum said she does see it as a benefit for people to be able to vote ahead of Election Day itself, but she warns there should be a change made in Lansing.

“I think consideration needs to be made legislatively to allow the processing of ballots the Monday before the Tuesday election,” Byrum said. “I’m not saying tabulate, I’m saying process the ballots. So, feed them through the tabulator. As a county, we can program the tabulator not to tabulate until after polls close.”

Same-day voter registration spiked in 2019, according to data provided by the state. In the two weeks prior to election day, 2,000 people registered. Of those new voters, 1,000 people registered on Election Day itself.

The data shows that young voters took advantage of the new option. Of the people who registered to vote on Election Day, more than half were under the age of 30. By contrast, the data shows that more than 300 voters over the age of 60 registered to vote the same day.

“I am excited to see such great new participation in our democracy,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said via statement.

Age breakdown for registration on Election Day:

  • 18-21: 375
  • 22-30: 236
  • 31-40: 207
  • 41-50: 135
  • 51-59: 78
  • 60+: 100

There are no legislative plans right now to make any changes to the absentee tabulation and processing practice in Michigan. Byrum said the conversation should happen now before the state really gears up for the 2020 presidential race.

“I think we need to have a conversation, I think we should have it before 2020 because 2020 is going to be an extraordinary election year,” Byrum said.

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