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Gov. Whitmer ahead of Nov. 3 election: 'Your vote will be counted'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill Tuesday that will allow some clerks to begin processing ballots early and vowed that state residents' votes "will be counted" in the upcoming election.

During a press conference inside the state Capitol, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson joined Whitmer in urging the Republican-controlled Legislature to advance another proposal that would allow some military members serving overseas to vote electronically. Benson also cautioned that it could take three days this fall for elections workers to count all of the ballots.

Whitmer signed a bill that will allow clerks in cities and townships with a population of at least 25,000 to begin preparing absentee ballots to be counted on the day before the election. However, the tabulation process would still have to take place on Election Day.

The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, is viewed as a way to help officials cope with a record amount of absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Whether you mail in an absentee ballot, drop it off at your local clerk or vote in person on Election Day, your vote will count on Nov. 3," Whitmer said. "Michigan voters: Request your ballot, fill it out and drop it in the mail by Oct.19 or take it to your local clerk’s office. Your voice will be heard in November.”

The legislation would allow clerks to begin opening outside envelopes containing absentee ballots from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. the day before Election Day. The policy bars workers from pulling the absentee voter ballots from the secrecy envelopes, which must be placed in a secure container after being opened and until Election Day.

Benson, who like Whitmer is a Democrat, said Michigan is "on track for a record-breaking turnout" on Nov. 3 and said the proposal signed Tuesday was a step in the right direction. Still, Benson said it could take until the Friday after the Nov. 3 election for clerks to tabulate all of the votes cast.

"It may be sooner," Benson said. "But we want to manage those expectations."

Benson and Whitmer also criticized the Republican-controlled Legislature for not advancing to the governor another bill that would allow members of the military and their spouses overseas to return ballots to their local clerks electronically.

The bill passed the House and Senate but had not been formally sent to the governor by Tuesday afternoon.  Johnson, a former secretary of state, said she once supported the bill but now opposes it after changes were made to it. The initial language would have required "a United States Department of Defense verified electronic signature," which is not included in the final version.

"For some reason, the Republican leaders of the Legislature chose not to send me this bill yet," Whitmer said. "I  am not sure what’s going on there. This is crucial for our brave folks and their families who serve in the military.

"Elections are no time to play partisan games.”

Johnson, who argued changes made to the bill produced a less secure process, said she wasn't sure why GOP leadership hadn't forwarded the bill to the governor for her signature.

The state senator from Oakland County is also the sponsor of the absentee voting proposal that Whitmer signed Tuesday. Johnson called it a "great bill." She wasn't informed about the signing event but found out through a reporter, she said.

Benson announced Monday that more than 2.7 million voters across the state had already requested mail-in ballots for the Nov. 3 election, a 145% increase from the 2016 presidential race. 

With less than 30 days to go until Election Day, the number of absentee ballots requested far exceeds the 1.1 million cast in 2016 and the 1.6 million that voted absentee in the August primary, Benson said on  Monday.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

Staff Writers Christine Ferretti and Beth LeBlanc contributed