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Benson set to mail postcards urging 4.4 million Michigan voters to vote absentee

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is planning to mail 4.4 million postcards to Michigan registered voters who have not asked to be added to the list of permanent absentee voters in their local communities or not already applied for a November ballot. 

The roughly $1.4 million mailing is an effort to encourage more people to vote from home during the pandemic. 

A record 1.6 million people voted absentee during the Aug. 4 primary and roughly 2.4 million currently are registered to receive absentee ballots in the November election. The record absentee vote came after Benson mailed absentee ballot applications to the state's 7.7 million qualified voters in May. 

Jocelyn Benson, Secretary of State, holds a press conference at Pasteur Elementary School in Detroit to give an update on today's election, Tuesday,  August 4, 2020.

“To ensure similar success and safety in November, when turnout is expected to double or even triple, voters must know they have the right to vote from home and how to do so," Benson said in a statement. 

The mailing between Aug. 20 and Sept. 20 will be paid for with federal funding from the Help America Vote Act, the Detroit Democrat said.  

Clerks are required by law to mail requested absentee ballots 40 days before the election, or on Sept. 24. Ballots requested later than Sept. 24 would be mailed later.

The May mailing by Benson was criticized by Republicans because some of the ballot applications went to people who had long since moved or died. But the first-term secretary of state defended the mailing, noting the responses to those ballots could help the state clean up its voting rolls. 

The new mailing commencing Aug. 20 will include 4.4 million "active, registered voters" not on the absentee voter list. The inclusion of "active" voters appears to exclude inactive voters who were included on the May mailing, a move that will perhaps decrease the number of items sent to moved or dead people. 

Benson also announced Thursday that she will allocate $5.5 million extra to clerks to help handle the expected increase in absentee ballots. The money, also stemming from the Help America Vote Act funds, will help to pay for postage on ballot return envelopes, the redesign of some ballot envelopes and the purchase of automatic letter openers, drop boxes and other equipment. 

The money will supplement the $11.2 million CARES Act funding Benson provided prior to the August primary. 

“The only missing piece is action from state lawmakers, who need to do their part to support our elections, clerks and voters," said Benson, who has encouraged lawmakers to ease restrictions on the early processing of absentee ballots and allow ballots postmarked before election day and received within two days of election day to be counted.

Benson also has asked for a law that would require clerks to call voters if the signature on their absentee envelope didn't match the signature in the state's records.

The secretary of state said last week that the state needs another roughly $15 million in federal funding to hire more election workers, purchase more high-speed tabulators and acquire personal protection supplies.

Michigan's Aug. 4 election not only broke the record for highest absentee participating in any state election, but also set a new high for the overall primary turnout of 2.2 million voters set in August 2018. 

The record 1.6 million absentee votes cast Aug. 4 surpassed Michigan's prior record of 1.27 million absentee ballots cast in the November 2016 presidential election. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com