Secretary of state: Expect Michigan primary results to come later

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News
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Lansing — Results from Michigan's presidential primary election Tuesday will come later than usual, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson cautioned during a Thursday press conference.

Benson didn't provide an estimate for how long results will be delayed after polls close Tuesday night. But a document prepared by the Michigan Department of State said, "There is significant possibility that unofficial election results will not be available until much later in the evening than they have been historically."

The first-term Democratic secretary of state asked the public to be "understanding" and said delays would be due to election officials working to tally results accurately under new laws and not because of errors.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, left, and Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, talks about the upcoming elections and early absentee voting earlier this year.

"I want to set the expectation that Tuesday's unofficial results will be available a little bit later than we may want or expect," Benson said.

In 2018, Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment that allowed eligible voters to register up through Election Day and that allowed for no-reason absentee voting. Previously, voters had to meet certain criteria, like being older than 60 or being out of town on Election Day, to vote absentee.

The changes and interest in this year's election have led to a surge in absentee voting. Compared with one week before the 2016 presidential primary, Michigan has experienced an 80% increase in applications for absentee ballots in 2020, according to the Department of State.

As of Thursday, Michigan voters had returned 572,895 absentee ballots, according to the department.

For weeks, Benson and other election officials have pressed Michigan lawmakers to allow local clerks to begin processing the absentee ballots before Election Day to help them cope with the time it takes to unseal and tabulate the ballots. But Michigan lawmakers so far haven't enacted any changes.

In the past, most results were printed and sent to county offices at the precinct level before being revealed to the public on election night after polls close at 8 p.m., Benson said. Now, a "significant" number of voters will cast absentee ballots through clerks' offices, she said.

"The results of those absentee ballots counted in that central location are going to come later and they are going to be significant," Benson said.

The precinct-level results will be less representative of all the votes cast than they have been before, she said.

Benson also used the press conference to tout the security of Michigan's election processes.

"Despite attempts to meddle in our elections that been reported at the national level, Michigan's elections system is more secure than ever," Benson said, "and voters should have full faith that every vote will be counted and results will be reported accurately."

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