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Whitmer, Benson encourage voters to cast ballots, predict Nov. 3 turnout to exceed 5M

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson encourage voters to cast ballots in November election during a news conference Sept. 16, 2020. (WWMT/Gov. Whitmer's Office)

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Wednesday that state election officials expect the Nov. 3 turnout to exceed 5 million voters — and once again break records for the numbers of ballots cast prior to Election Day.

"Even in the midst of this global pandemic we are on track here in Michigan to see a record number of citizens voting this fall," Benson said. "Our overall turnout will likely exceed 5 million and we're also on track to have more people voting prior to Election Day than ever before, either through the mail or in person at their local clerk's office."

Already, Benson said, a record-breaking 2.3 million voters have requested absentee ballots, surpassing the record 1.6 million who voted absentee in the August primary. She said the state is on track to have more than 3 million Michiganders vote absentee in November.

Speaking during a public update on the state's response to COVID-19, Benson and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer both said voters must take action now to ensure that their voice is heard, and that Michigan residents have many options to vote safely.

"It’s crucial that all Michiganders know how to safely exercise their right to vote and make a plan ahead of the November election," Whitmer said. “Right now, Michigan citizens can register to vote and request an absentee ballot online at Michigan.gov/Vote. They also have a number of options to vote safely and securely, including from home, early at their clerk’s office, and in person at the polls."


Watch the briefing below:

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Options for voting

"Our elections will happen on time, and on schedule," Benson said. "Our elections will continue to be accessible, safe and secure, just as they have been this year."

Benson provided an update on preparations for the Nov. 3 general elections, and opportunities state voters have for participating. She said the state election system is on track to continue the success of two previous elections held this year amid the pandemic. Absentee ballots will be mailed Sept. 24, and those who still want to request one can do so at their local clerk's office, or through the state's election website page. And for those who go to the polls, she said, election workers will be wearing masks and face shields and taking all required steps to sanitize public areas.

“Already we have had three elections this year where we have seen record turnout, record numbers of citizens voting by mail, and little to no crowding or lines on Election Day," Benson said.

Benson pointed to the success of previous elections this year.

"We are on track to replicate the success of this year in November,” Benson said. “Our clerks are doing their part, working tirelessly as they have all year to juggle unprecedented challenges while embracing record turnout. But they and voters need support from the federal government and our state legislature.”

The key, she said, is that voters have options for casting their ballots, and there are protocols for ensuring that their vote is counted. Those options include wearing a mask at the polls, where election workers will be following safety protocols, mailing in a ballot, and dropping that absentee ballot off at the clerk's office prior to the election.

Benson listed several points for voters, and options to ensure their ballot are counted:

  • All Michiganders have a right to have a ballot mailed to their home.
  • Request an application or a ballot through a local clerk or at Michigan.gov/Vote
  • Send ballots in the U.S. mail.
  • Drop ballots in boxes at clerk's offices (a list will be at Michigan.gov/vote).
  • Vote in person early by 4 p.m. Nov. 2.
  • Vote at the polls on Election Day, Nov. 3
  • Track your absentee ballot through the state voting website,

She also encouraged state lawmakers to adopt legislation that would give clerks time to process absentees ballots, and to ensure that no voter is disenfranchised because of slow postal service.

The Michigan Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow clerks to start processing absentee ballots the day before the election. Whitmer said she hopes the House follows suit,

While other states provide days for pre-processing of absentee ballots, Benson said, Senate Bill 757 would allow only a few more hours, and only limited pre-processing, which is not enough to make a significant difference. Benson said thousands of voters were disenfranchised in the August primary because their ballots arrived late or without a signature matching the one on their voter registration.

Benson also encouraged people to report misinformation they see about voting to her office.

To ensure postal delays don't prevent votes from being counted, Whitmer said all Michigan voters need to turn in their mail in ballots as quickly as possible.

"No matter who you’re voting for, or how you choose to exercise your right to vote this fall, make your plan now. And stick to it," Whitmer said.

Help for voters

Leaders of several organizations also participated in the briefing Wednesday, including Christina Schlitt, president of the Michigan League of Women Voters.

"I encourage all voters to turn to trusted sources of information, like our printed voter guides distributed this week and our award winning online voter guide Vote411.org, as well as the information shared by the Department of State and local election clerks,” Schlitt said. “And if you see election information that is untrue or suspicious, report it immediately to the Department of State by emailing Misinformation@Michigan.gov.”

Representatives of the NAACP and the organization Michigan Emgage joined the briefing as well, expressing their confidence in the elections and encourage all voters to cast a ballot.

"Every vote must count," said the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the NAACP's Detroit chapter. "We will not be tricked, bamboozled, or have our eyes taken off the prize of voter participation. We have come too far to turn back now. We urge everyone to take your soles to the polls and vote."

Take Your Soles to the Polls is a slogan used by the Detroit NAACP to encourage voters to cast their ballots.

Nada Al-Hanooti, who is executive director Michigan Emgage, an organization that encourages Michigan Muslims to vote, said residents also should support the elections, not only by voting, but by serving as election workers and by reporting any efforts that hinder voters.

“Communities across the state need more election workers than ever this year, and bilingual workers are especially helpful," Al-Hanooti said.


Oubreak monitoring

Khaldun, who is the chief deputy director of Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services, said health officials are continuing to watch outbreaks in the state, including those at schools.

"Studies show that while children are less likely to get severely ill from COVID-19, they still can," Khaldun said. "And they can also pass it on to others, including adults."

She pointed to the occurrence of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children that is associated with COVID-19 infections. The syndrome can cause multiple organs to fail. She also mentioned that Michigan's recent fatalities from COVID-19 include a 2-month-old infant.

Kahldun said about 800 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the syndrome, also known as MIS-C. Sixteen children have died from the syndrome.

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"We're fighting COVID-19 because we want people to not only live, but to have long lives with good health, not living the rest of their lives and their years with organs severely damaged from this virus," Khaldun said. "So I'm asking everyone to please, regardless of your political affiliation , wear your mask, wash your hands and keep your distance as much as you can between yourself and others."

She also addressed why bars are still closed. Data exists, Khaldun said, that shows many outbreaks of COVID-19 across the country were traced to indoor bars and restaurants. Several outbreaks in bars affected hundreds of people in Michigan, she said.

"Bars in particular are associated with unique risk factors," Khaldun said. "Lots of people, tight spaces and alcohol, leading people to change their behaviors and increasing their risk of the spread of COVID-19."

Still, she said, she is optimistic, both bout a vaccine being developed and about new treatments that help those who are suffering from the disease.