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Michigan, Detroit officials update voters on 'most important election of our lifetime'

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

As Election Day approaches, leaders in Michigan and Detroit are warning voters: Stay informed, be prepared and don’t sit it out.

“This is the most important election of our lifetime and everybody has to put their hand to the plow to ensure that every Detroiter, every citizen in the state of Michigan and every American has an opportunity to engage in this process without any barriers,” said Daniel Baxter, who oversees Detroit’s elections, on Monday.

Baxter and other officials shared that message during a virtual voter information forum by the Detroit Chapter-National Association of Black Journalists.

WWJ's Vickie Thomas, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and WDIV's Evrod Cassimy discuss voting in the Nov. 3 election on Monday.

They fielded questions from viewers and the moderators, WWJ Newsradio 950 AM reporter Vickie Thomas and WDIV-TV (Channel 4) anchor Evrod Cassimy, about election-related topics from poll security to precincts and turnout.

The Nov. 3 general election is the state’s first presidential election in which residents can vote early with an absentee ballot after no-reason absentee voting was legalized in 2018.

Through last week, the number of absentee ballots requested ballooned to nearly 2.7 million this year, or more than three times the requests in 2016, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office reported. The largest aggregate increases in ballot requests from 2016 have occurred in mostly urban centers — Metro Detroit, west Michigan and the Lansing area.

As of Monday, that figure had climbed to about 2.8 million, while clerks had received some 977,000 returned, Benson said. "It’s a really great thing, because we are on track to see record turnout.”

There is still a chance for long lines on Election Day, “but we’re set up to really avoid that, particularly in the city of Detroit this year,” Benson said.

In Michigan’s largest city, she cited its nearly two dozen satellite centers and 30-plus drop boxes designed for early voting, in addition to the many precincts open on Election Day.

“We’re ready for record turnout, and I anticipate there won’t be many long lines in the city, although if there is, that just means there’s even more people voting than even we anticipated,” Benson said.

Baxter noted the law change and coronavirus pandemic contributing to a “perfect storm” for higher absentee voting, with numbers expected to top 200,000 in Detroit.

Following issues with the August primary, when 72% of Detroit's absentee voting precincts didn't match with the number of ballots, city officials have worked with the state and also revamped procedures, Baxter said.

That includes implementing an “electronic poll book” at precincts and robust training for more than 1,000 poll workers, he said.

Meanwhile, taking advantage of a bill Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Tuesday that will allow some clerks to start processing ballots early, “we’ll have 500 citizens … that will be assisting us in preparing those” on Nov. 2, Baxter said. “That’ll give us a head-start that we need to make sure that we’re in good time.”

Others also addressed concerns about possible voter intimidation.

"If people get in the way, we will take their butts to court, we will sue them because this is serious," said the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch NAACP.

Detroit Branch NAACP President the Rev. Wendell Anthony said his group planned to have at least 50 lawyers ready to take action if necessary.

“If people get in the way, we will take their butts to court, we will sue them because this is serious,” he said.  "Don't let anybody stop you from exercising your franchise." 

Benson said she and Attorney General Dana Nessel would be releasing more information soon about plans addressing safety and security at the polls.

"We're going to protect every single citizen, every very single voter in this state," she said. "We're going to use every tool at our disposal to do so. And we're not going to stand for anyone with any intention to disrupt the polls, or block anyone from voting on Election Day, or in this early voting period."