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Benson: More than 3M people have requested absentee ballots

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

More than 3 million people in Michigan have requested absentee ballots ahead of the Nov. 3 election and nearly all of them have been mailed their ballots, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Monday. 

Roughly half of those who have received their ballots have sent in their requests, Benson said. 

"To have reached this benchmark two weeks prior to the polls closing, when we know that number will continue to climb, is really remarkable," the first-term Detroit Democrat said. 

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 3 million absentee voters would make up more than half of the 5.9 million voters predicted in Michigan, according to modeling released Tuesday by Michigan State University political science professor Corwin Smidt. The state's record of 5.08 million voters was set during the 2008 presidential election. 

Smidt used the same model and approach ahead of the November 2018 election and March presidential primary and found his predictions to be accurate, if not slightly under actual turnout. 

Benson has warned voters that after this past Monday they should submit their absentee ballots in person at drop boxes or their clerk's office from here on out to avoid delays in the mail that may disqualify the ballot.

Oct. 19 marked the end of registration through mail or online, but voters can still go in person to their clerk's office to register and vote their ballot at the same time.

Prior to the numbers released Tuesday, Michigan ranked second in the nation for the number of absentee ballots requested so far, according to The New York Times

With 2.9 million requested at that time, the state lagged behind Florida where residents had already requested nearly 5.8 million absentee ballots.

In all, Benson said she anticipates two-thirds of voters in Michigan will cast their ballot via absentee. 

Benson said her office continues to counter misinformation in social media posts and robocalls about the security of absentee ballots. She also is preparing to counter an anticipated new vein of voter dissuasion. 

"A lot of the misinformation may shift to try to scare people away from voting in person," Benson said. "We’re already starting to see some inklings of that."

The uptick in Michigan dates back to a 2018 ballot proposal approved by voters that allows residents to request an absentee ballot for any reason. 

As the pandemic raised fears about transmission of the virus in polling booths earlier this year, Benson mailed out absentee ballot applications to 7.7 million voters in an effort to encourage mail-in voting. 

The Michigan Legislature has since passed legislation that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law that would allow clerks to begin processing ballots Nov. 2 to account for the uptick in absentee ballots that will need to be processed. 

Even then, Benson has said she doesn't expect a complete count of ballots in Michigan before Thursday or Friday of election week. 

Last week, the Michigan Court of Appeals struck down a lower court ruling that would have allowed ballots to be counted if they were postmarked before Election Day but arrived within 14 days after. 

The U.S. Supreme Court  ruled Monday that Pennsylvania can count late ballots if they are postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by the Friday after Election Day. The nation's high court deadlocked 4-4, so an appeals court ruling was effectively upheld. 

Benson announced Friday that the open carry of firearms would be prohibited within 100 feet of polling locations, clerk's offices or absent voter counting boards to remove the possibility of voter intimidation. The state's sheriffs and police chiefs associations have voiced their doubts that the directive complies with state law and have expressed their concern about being put in the middle of an murky enforcement situation.

On Tuesday, Benson said the order is supported by "well-established case law and precedent."

"My authority to protect voters from threats and harassment and intimidation on Election Day while exercising their fundamental right to vote is well grounded in the law, both state and federal," she said. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com