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Biden campaign plans Michigan's largest voter protection effort

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's campaign is building what it describes as the largest and "best-resourced voter protection program" in Michigan history, according to a memo released by the campaign Wednesday.

The memo describes how the former vice president's team sees the race in Michigan with seven weeks remaining until Election Day on Nov. 3. It comes after visits to the state by Biden, his wife, Jill Biden, President Donald Trump and Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., in the last eight days.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event on manufacturing American products at UAW Region 1 headquarters in Warren.

Trump, the Republican incumbent, won Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016, his smallest margin of victory nationally.

Among Biden's campaign initiatives in the state is a voter protection effort as state officials expect a record level of absentee ballots this fall during the COVID-19 pandemic and as Trump has claimed, without evidence, that widespread mail-in voting during the pandemic will lead to fraud.

In July, Trump declined to commit to accepting the results of the Nov. 3 election.

More than a dozen "voter protection" attorneys and staff are working with clerks' offices in Michigan to expand voting access and train "hundreds of lawyers and other volunteers to assist voters during early voting and on Election Day," says the new memo from Eric Hyers, Michigan state director for Biden's campaign.

"Our goal is to ensure that every eligible voter in Michigan can register to vote, access a ballot, vote and have that vote counted," the memo says.

Michigan Republicans are planning their own efforts surrounding voting this fall. About 25 of them monitored the counting of absentee ballots in the basement of the TCF Center in Detroit during the Aug. 4 primary.

Thomas Goodson of Shelby Township prepares to hand in his ballot at Crissman Elementary School in Shelby Township at the 1st precinct on Tuesday, August 4, 2020.

Former Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, said recently that 3 million Michiganians could vote absentee for the Nov. 3 election. That's more than double the 1.27 million people who voted absentee in the 2016 presidential election.

In 2018, Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment that allows for no-reason absentee voting. Residents previously had to meet certain qualifications or be unable to go to the polls on Election Day to cast an absentee ballot.

During an appearance on "Meet the Press" this month, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, said Election Day could turn into "election week" because of anticipated delays in counting ballots.

Biden led the Republican incumbent 47% to 42% in a poll of 600 likely Michigan voters released by The Detroit News and WDIV last week. The poll had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.

Biden is "strongly positioned" for victory in Michigan, according to the new memo from Hyers. In the last six weeks, Biden's Michigan campaign says it has experienced a 225% increase in active volunteers. It sent more than 617,000 text messages to Michigan residents over the week of Labor Day, the memo says.

"Mobilizing and engaging supporters during a global pandemic is an unprecedented situation, but it has also provided us an opportunity to meet voters where they are," the campaign memo says. "Our phone contact rates are higher than they have ever been and we are having more meaningful conversations to both mobilize and persuade voters."

Michigan Republicans have touted their ground game in recent weeks as they've been more aggressively knocking on doors during the pandemic than Democrats have been. Republican have made 5 million contacts with voters and held 1,500 training sessions, according to their data.

The Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign have been investing in Michigan since the 2016 election, Ronna McDaniel, the committee's chairwoman, said last week.

"We feel really good about where we're at," McDaniel said.

cmauger@detroitnews.com