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Early voting via absentee ballot starts Thursday in Michigan

Beth LeBlanc Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

Michigan voters who want to vote in the general election can do so starting Thursday. 

The 2020 general election is Michigan's first presidential election in which residents can vote early with an absentee ballot after no-reason absentee voting was legalized in 2018.

NAACP's Reverend Wendell Anthony, in front of a newly painted mural by artist Ndubisi Okoye, during a press conference by MichiganVoting.com Coalition members, with Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, announcing '40 Days of Early Voting' campaign at the ACLU of Michigan building in Detroit, Michigan on September 24, 2020.

Clerks across the state will start to send out requested absentee ballots Thursday, which can be filled out and returned by mail or by leaving the envelope in a designated dropbox.

Under a court order that is being challenged, individuals have up until Nov. 2 to mail in a completed absentee ballot so long as the ballot arrives at the clerk's office within 14 days after the election. 

Despite that court-ordered cushion, state officials have urged residents to mail their completed ballots as soon as possible because of delays in the U.S. Postal Service. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has advised residents to mail their ballots no later than Oct. 20. 

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson during a press conference with The Detroit Pistons, in partnership with the Michigan Secretary of State's Office, revealing an official ballot drop box in front of the Detroit Pistons Performance Center in Detroit, Michigan on September 24, 2020.

Benson cautioned Thursday that the large number of expected mail-in ballots likely will mean a wait for election results.

"It's nearly impossible ... to get through three million ballots in 12 to 13 hours," she said. "It's going to take time, and we are still preparing for that reality, working with our clerks to provide more tabulators and more people to improve the efficiency. Our focus also will be on security and accuracy of the results."

Separately, individuals also can vote early in person by requesting an absentee ballot in person from their local clerk's office and filling it out there. 

Under current law, none of the ballots can be counted until election day. 

On Thursday, Benson and Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey unveiled one of 30 drop-off ballot boxes around the city, in front of the Pistons' Performance Center. 

Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey Vice during a press conference with The Detroit Pistons, in partnership with the Michigan Secretary of State's Office, revealing an official ballot drop box in front of the Detroit Pistons Performance Center in Detroit, Michigan on September 24, 2020.

Other drop box locations include churches, community centers and the Wayne County Community College downtown campus. 

"We made sure that every district in Detroit is well-represented with a drop box and a voting center. We did not just seek the high voter turnout areas, but we also did the low voter turnout areas," Winfrey said. 

As of Tuesday, nearly 2.4 million people had requested absentee ballots in Michigan amid pushes from state officials to have voters cast ballots by mail to avoid coronavirus risks at polling places.Winfrey said Detroit alone is expecting about 200,000 absentee ballots this election year. 

Benson said the state House passed a package of legislation that will implement changes to prepare for the large number of absentee ballots that will be coming in. The changes include providing clerks an extra day to process ballots prior to election day and allowing clerks to notify voters when a signature is missing or not matching on a ballot. 

"We want to make sure that no valid vote is discarded based on an administrative error," Benson said. 

Individuals are still able to vote in person at their local precinct the day of the election.

Voters can request absentee ballots by filling out an application for one from their local clerk's office or by visiting michigan.gov/vote. Individuals can find their local clerk's office by entering their address at the same site. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com