Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced May 19 that all registered voters in Michigan will receive an application to vote by mail in the August and November elections.
“By mailing applications, we have ensured that no Michigander has to
choose between their health and their right to vote,” Benson said. “Voting by mail is easy, convenient, safe, and secure, and every voter in Michigan has the right to do it.”
Of the 7.7 million registered voters in the state, about 1.3 million are on the permanent absent voter list, and their local election clerk mails them applications ahead of every election. Additionally, some jurisdictions are mailing applications to all local registered voters. The Michigan Department of State’s Bureau of Elections has ensured all remaining registered voters receive an application.
“We appreciate that some clerks are proactively protecting public health by mailing applications to all their registered voters, and we are fulfilling our responsibility to provide all voters equal access,” Benson said. “We know from the elections that took place this month that during the pandemic Michiganders want to safely vote.”
Record-breaking turnout was recorded in the approximately 50 elections held across 33 counties on May 5, with nearly 25 percent of eligible voters casting ballots and 99 percent of them doing so by mail or in a drop box. From 2010 to 2019, average turnout in local elections in May was 12 percent.
The application mailing from the Bureau of Elections includes a cover letter with instructions from Secretary Benson. Once a voter signs their application, they can mail it or email a photo of it to their local clerk, whose contact information is included on the application. The application is also available for download at Michigan.gov/Vote. At the same website, voters can also register and join the permanent absent voter list so they always have the option to vote by mail.
“The vast majority of voters across the political spectrum want the option to vote by mail,” Benson said. “Mailing applications to all registered voters is one of the ways that we are ensuring Michigan’s elections will continue to be safe, accurate and secure.”
After Benson’s announcement, Ruth Johnson, the former secretary of state and current Republican state senator from Holly said, “I supported secure, no-reason absentee voting as secretary of state, and I think absentee voting can be a really good option for people — especially with the coronavirus pandemic. Michigan voters can already request and complete an application, receive an absentee ballot, and mail in their absentee ballot — all without ever leaving their homes.
“I do question how and why this specific mailing was done right now. Local clerks are the ones who have always handled these requests, not the secretary of state. Like Gov. Whitmer, Secretary Benson seems to be taking unilateral actions with no input and questionable motives — and that is very troubling.
“The secretary mailing an application to every voter is an unnecessary expense that will cost millions of dollars. Where is that money coming from? I assume it will be from coronavirus funds the state received. That money should be going to get personal protective equipment for health care workers and more tests for our state, not to do a big mailing promoting the secretary of state for something that usually comes from local clerks. It seems political to me.
“There are also integrity concerns with these mailings. In May, we found that a smaller mailing similar to this one included people who were dead, had moved out of the state, or were under the legal voting age. It increases opportunities for fraud when you send a bunch of applications with prepaid return postage to people who are dead, moved, don’t exist or aren’t qualified to vote.”
Denise Graves, clerk for Argentine Township, said she sees bad and good issues with applications being sent to every registered voter.
Fraud is a concern of hers. She said as an example, a person moves to another city or state and they do not update their driver’s license. Since the Secretary of State’s Office does not know they moved, they send the application to their last residence. The person living there now, could, if they wanted to, fill out that application, sign it and send it in even though it was not meant for them.
Graves said this new practice of sending applications to all registered voters is to increase voter turnout. “It would entice more to vote,” she said.
With more people voting via mail-in ballots, Graves said the parking situation at the township hall would likely not be as bad as when a couple thousand show up to vote on Election Day.
Graves and other clerks are already gearing up for the August Primary. She expects to hear a future announcement that all voting would be done by mail, which would eliminate traditional voting on Election Day at the polls. “It’s all new and we just need to figure it all out,” she said.”