Benson: 6,400 Michigan absentee ballots rejected for late arrival

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

More than 6,400 of Michigan's 10,600 absentee ballots rejected Aug. 4 were turned away because they arrived after Election Day, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office said Friday.

Another 2,225 ballots were discarded because there was no signature on the envelope; 1,111 were rejected because the voter moved; and 846 were not accepted because the voter was dead, according to data from Benson's office. 

Those individuals listed as dead or moved include voters who died or moved out of the jurisdiction after submitting their absentee ballots, Benson's spokeswoman Tracy Wimmer said. The state gets monthly updates from the Social Security Administration regarding new Michigan deaths so officials can identify ballots filed by people who have since died.

The number of deceased voters is actually less than the November 2016 election, when 1,782 absentee ballots were rejected because the voter had died in an election that had 400,000 fewer absentee ballots than the Aug. 4 primary. 

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.

The total of 10,694 ballots rejected Aug. 4 take on special significance in Michigan, where President Donald Trump won by a margin of 10,704 votes in November 2016 — his slimmest margin nationwide. 

The development came a day after The Detroit News reported that the U.S. Postal Service has warned Benson that Michigan's mail delivery timelines pose "significant risk" to ballots sent too close to Election Day and that could lead to their disqualification. 

Detroit received 820 ballots late that couldn’t be counted, City Clerk Janice Winfrey told The News on Thursday, while Warren’s clerk said Michigan’s third largest city received 84 ballots late through Thursday.

Michigan's largest city also rejected 452 ballots because election officials lacked signatures or the signatures on the envelope did not match state data, according to Benson's data. Another 52 moved and 32 died after sending in their ballots. 

Detroit also had a convict who voted, the lone ballot to be rejected statewide for that reason. 

The city of Lansing rejected 136 late ballots, Grand Rapids received 158, Macomb Township 118, Southfield 128 and Waterford 123. 

Benson released the statistics Friday as she urged the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass legislation ahead of November that would require clerks to call the voter if there are issues with an envelope signature and permit ballots to be counted if they were postmarked before Election Day. 

“The data demonstrates that thousands of people who cast otherwise valid votes were not able to participate in last week’s election solely because the Legislature failed to act ahead of the primary,” the Detroit Democrat said in a statement. 

“With turnout and absentee ballot numbers expected to double or even triple in November, we could be looking at tens of thousands of Michigan citizens disenfranchised if the legislature again fails to act," she said. 

Michigan residents voted absentee in record numbers Aug. 4, sending 1.6 million absentee ballots compared with the prior record of 1.27 million absentee voters in the November presidential election. 

The total number of participants in the Aug. 4 primary — 2.5 million — outstripped the previous primary turnout record of 2.2 million in August 2018. 

Already, 2.4 million people are registered to vote absentee in the November election. On Thursday, Benson said she would mail postcards to the remaining 4.4 million voters who had not yet requested an absentee ballot reminding them of their right to do so and encouraging them to take advantage of mail-in voting during the pandemic. 

In addition to the other rejected ballots, Michigan election officials rejected 51 in which the voter cancelled the ballot and 24 for which the identification could not be confirmed.