Absentee ballot returns strong amid light primary turnout across Metro Detroit

Michigan polls reported light turnout for primary voting Tuesday, though state election officials say absentee ballot returns were strong.

As of 6:30 p.m., clerks from around the state reported receiving about 1,106,179 completed absentee ballots of the 1,316,257 requested, said Jake Rollow, a spokesman for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office.

Those Tuesday absentee ballots come to about 52% of the total 2.1 million ballots cast in the August 2018 gubernatorial primary election, when there were contested gubernatorial primary races for both the Republican and Democratic nominees.

Benson said some races may be called tonight, but others may be too close to call until “sometime tomorrow,” which is when she expects all absentee ballots across the state will have been counted.

“Overall the day was very smooth and successful,” Benson said at a Tuesday night press conference after the polls closed across the state. 

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the more than 1,600 township, city and county clerks of Michigan as well as their staff members and the thousands of election workers who signed up to serve in today’s election. They once again made Michigan’s elections among the most secure and safe in the nation.”

Michigan primary election results:Find results for GOP governor race, county races and more

 Voters in Metro Detroit and Michigan are deciding the Republican nominee for governor as well as their representatives in Washington, D.C., and Lansing. 

Roseville resident Audra Fortune, 56, was among the early risers who voted at Roseville voting at Precinct 4 in Green Elementary. She had voted and was set to tackle the rest of her day by 7:30 a.m.

Fortune, 56, said she was interested in all of the races on the ballot.

“You know with where our country is going at this point, with coming out of COVID and trying to get back on track, inflation and everything is moving so fast, who do I believe can do the better job?” Fortune said. “That’s basically it. I listened to everyone, saw everything and, taking politics out of it, voted for who I think can do the best job.”

Tim Crider, a veteran who is a machine repairman and lives in Westland, voted at his precinct at the library early Tuesday. 

"I prefer to vote in person and thank (election volunteers) for doing what they do," Crider said.

Isolated problems

As with most elections, isolated incidents cropped up at a select few polling locations throughout the day. But the overall operation was "smooth," Rollow said.

Officials temporarily closed a polling place in the Genesee County city of Linden on Tuesday afternoon as police looked into a suspicious backpack, said Leslie Raleigh, the county's chief deputy clerk. During the closure, voters were directed to cast absentee ballots at the city clerk's office instead of the polling place.

Linden Police Chief Scott Sutter said his police department along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Michigan State Police bomb squad and Genesee County Sheriff Department bomb dogs investigated the backpack and the local church being used for the voting location. 

He said the backpack was determined to contain old electronics accidentally left at the church by an individual days prior to polls opening Tuesday.

"It was determined by MSP that there were no explosive devices in the backpack," Sutter said.

More on Tuesday's primary:

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How to vote:What to know on Michigan's Election Day

Michigan secretary of state:Attempts to block election certification will be 'futile'

The state received reports of issues with in-person ballots in Lapeer County, where some ballots with incorrect timing marks on the side were rejected by tabulators. 

The spoiled ballots were placed in an auxiliary bin and the votes duplicated onto a correct ballot that can then be fed through the tabulator, Rollow said. He said the issue should have no impact on election results.

In the small St. Joseph County township of Burr Oak Township, a clerk accidentally sent absentee ballots to residents instead of absentee ballot applications and realized the mistake when ballots were mailed back, according to Rollow. 

After learning about the issue Tuesday, the state exercised supervisory control and the county clerk took over election administration in the township. The clerk's mistake is expected to have affected 50 to 100 ballots, which were still counted in Tuesday's tally. 

In Inkster, officials opened polling locations Tuesday without electronic pollbooks or printed voter lists, which are used to check a voter's registration and eligibility during in-person voting. 

Workers at the precincts checked voter eligibility with the city clerk over the phone until printed voter lists were delivered. Before the lists were delivered, Rollow said, workers kept track of individuals who voted through the voter application individuals are required to fill out prior to in-person voting. 

Michigan has one of the most decentralized election systems in the nation, with more than 1,500 clerks running their individual elections while the Secretary of State fills a supervisory role. Isolated mistakes made by those clerks have not put a damper on what has otherwise been a smooth day, Rollow said. 

"You’re going to have people make mistakes — that’s what I would characterize most of the hiccups as," said Rollow., noting that each issue is being addressed.

The proportion of absentee ballots in Tuesday's primary election is likely to be higher than the August 2018 primary since this year marks the first statewide gubernatorial primary since voters in November 2018 approved no-reason absentee voting.

James Steffen (from left), Ryan Eberhart, and Vinnie Hunnicutt, voting inspectors, wait for voters to register at the William P. Faust Public Library in Westland on Tuesday, August 2, 2022.

As of Tuesday evening, the state reported more than 3,000 same-day registrations. The 2018 ballot initiative that allowed for no-reason absentee voting also allowed individuals to register to vote the same day as an election and vote that day through an absentee ballot at the clerk's office.

Throughout the state, reports from polling places depict "pretty smooth sailing," Rollow said. Absentee counting boards, which began counting at 7 a.m., will likely continue tallying votes into Wednesday in some jurisdictions.

Voters hit the polls

In Warren, at McKinley Elementary near Toepfer and Schoenherr where the polls for the city's 14th, 15th and 16th voting precincts were housed, Linda Chalmers said she came to vote Tuesday because she’s “tired of the ‘Democratic‘ issues going on.”

“And I’m tired of the world economy,” the lifelong Warren resident, 62, said after casting her ballot. “We have to have an American economy right now.”

A top concern for Judy Rogers, a 57-year-old homemaker from Rochester Hills, was inflation as she voted in the Republican primaries for John James in the 10th Congressional District and Metro Detroit businessman Kevin Rinke for governor.

Inflation also was a concern for Don Marriott, 75, of Rochester Hills, who’s retired from the auto supply industry. Other issues that brought him to the polls were crime, foreign policy and issues at the border, which he says are “ruining the country.”

But Sydney Raines, 32, of Westland, a mortgage closer, said she supports Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and is looking for a safer environment for youth, more gun control, more control of women's rights

"Gretchen hasn't shown us anything but goodness and keeping us safe, so I'm going to keep her around," she said.

"I'm looking for more diversity and more inclusion. I'm sick of the segregation and separation and a lot of these candidates are actually for it, versus trying to pull everyone together."

Miguel Arreola of Westland speaks about voting in person at the William P. Faust Public Library in Westland on Tuesday, August 2, 2022.

Miguel Arreola of Westland, who works for CVS Warehouse, had specific issues that motivated him, including concerns about long power outages and maintenance of the electrical grid.

"There has to be something they can do to address that because obviously it's a big inconvenience when you lose power and days go by and you don't have any electricity or anything like that," the 54-year-old man said.

"Those are basically my main concerns: keeping the neighborhood up, making sure that our power lines are maintained, and that we have more of a police presence in the neighborhood."

"I feel like the right to vote is an important one and you need to come out and exercise it."

Yvonne Darden of Westland casts her vote at the William P. Faust Public Library in Westland on Tuesday, August 2, 2022.

Yvonne Darden, a retiree from Westland, said she just wants "to make this country a better place to live in."

Her interest in voting centers on school safety, senior citizen care, more honesty in politics, the economy, racism and the pandemic.

Staff Writers Charles E. Ramirez, Melody Baetens and Kalea Hall contributed.