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Michigan Gov. Whitmer says voter intimidation will not be tolerated

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

LansingMichigan leaders spoke out against potential efforts to intimidate and misinform state voters on Wednesday, saying such attempts "will not be tolerated."

With less than a week remaining until Tuesday's pivotal presidential election, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said disseminating false election information to voters, videotaping voters and blocking access to polling places can represent illegal acts of intimidation. People who are not poll workers should also not ask voters for information, the governor added.

"These actions are illegal and they will not be tolerated in Michigan," Whitmer said.

"Let me be clear: All Michiganders have the right to vote without fear of intimidation or violence," she said at another point. "Voter intimidation is illegal.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs into law a six-week extension for unemployment benefits at her Lansing home on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020.

A Wednesday press briefing featured Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist as they focused on "coordinated efforts" ahead of Election Day.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday for most of the state. But absentee voting has been going on in Michigan for weeks and voters can still return their ballots to local clerks' offices or official drop boxes.

As of Tuesday, about 2.4 million voters had already cast their ballots in Michigan and 3.25 million absentee ballots had been requested. In the 2016 November election, 1.27 million people voted absentee.

Michigan residents approved a constitutional amendment to allow for no-reason absentee voting in 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic has also spurred some voters to seek out the absentee option.

Michigan is "shattering" its past absentee voting record, Gilchrist said.

"Your absentee ballot will be counted accurately and fairly," he said.

The lieutenant governor also emphasized that voter intimidation is illegal.

"No one has the right to stand between you and casting your ballot,” Gilchrist said. "Our entire administration is dedicated to protecting all voters."

The national spotlight is on Michigan's election after President Donald Trump won the state by 10,704 votes in 2016, his closest margin of victory nationally. The campaigns of both Trump and Democratic presidential nominee have been rushing surrogates to Michigan in recent days.

Trump, who held a rally in Lansing on Tuesday, will be in Oakland County on Friday. Biden and former President Barack Obama will visit on Saturday.

Benson, the state's top election official, warned of efforts to misinform voters in the final days before Tuesday. And Attorney General Dana Nessel said if people have issues at the polls, they can contact her office at 517-335-7659.

"Misinformation attacks have just one goal to ensure or attempt to ensure that voters doubt the legitimacy of our elections. But they will not succeed," Benson said.

The state expects 60%-70% of the anticipated 5 million voters in Michigan to cast their ballots via absentee this year. 

A recent estimate from Michigan State University projected 5.9 million people would vote in the Nov. 3 election, which would shatter the record of 5.08 million voters set in 2008 when Democrat Barack Obama was elected. 

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.

cmauger@detroitnews.com