Despite a pandemic, Michigan’s May elections passed bonds and school funding in places from St. Clair to Kent Counties. The election was smooth and successful.
MICHIGAN — In the middle of a pandemic, a record number of Michiganders voted in Michigan’s May elections Tuesday.
As The ‘Gander previously reported, that record-setting number was at least in part related to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s work to expand access to absentee voting.
She allowed Michiganders to vote from home and minimize risk from the pandemic that marred elections in Wisconsin in April.
Thanks to her emergency orders, the state mailed ballot applications with postage-paid return envelopes to every voter in 53 communities across 33 counties.
About 50 communities voted in Michigan Tuesday, making up about 10% of Michigan’s electorate. Those voters decided things like bond proposals and taxes for schools in an election that traditionally doesn’t see high voter engagement.
Normally, only 12% of Michiganders vote in May elections, but that number doubled Tuesday.
“People want to vote and weigh in on critical issues in their communities. … Even in crisis, democracy is essential,” said Michigan’s SOS Joceylyn Benson.
Voting From Home is a Right Michiganders Exercised
The overall turnout of 24% shattered the previous record turnout for a Michigan May election of 15%.
And while the big takeaway is the success of absentee voting, people did vote in person Tuesday. Those that did were able to do so in safer ways to manage risks from the pandemic.
Deborah Watts, a 66-year-old retiree, voted Tuesday on the third floor of Warren City Hall just north of Detroit. She walked through a locked door, she kept social distance, a clerk wiped down the voting machine after every use. Watts said she felt safe.
Warren resident Erica Jones also voted in person. She felt safe the whole time, but noted how strange it was to see polling places so empty during an election with historic turnout.
Both Jones and Watts had misunderstood parts of the absentee voting process for May, leading to Benson making communication of the process a priority heading into the next round of statewide elections in August.
“Voters should take assurance in this. With two state-wide elections on the horizon — this August and November — we have shown that we can protect your health and your right to vote,” Bensen said. “The reality is, in Michigan every citizen has a right to vote from home. So we’re going to be spending every moment we can between now and our two state-wide elections this year making sure every citizen, every voter, has the ability to do that.”
So What Was Voted On?
As for what actually was voted on, a slate of proposals for local communities were considered.
In St. Clair County, the millage to fund Blue Water Transportation was renewed with more than 70% of the vote, reports the Times Herald. The Herald also reports that Sanilac County passed school bonding and millage proposals by similarly wide margins.
Local MLive affiliates also recapped the passage of school proposals around the state. In Kalamazoo County, an education tax was renewed. In Kent County, two local school proposals passed funding upgrades and growth. In Genesee County, four school proposals in different communities all passed.
“I’ve always been in favor of mail — I’ve always been in favor of that,” Genesee County Clerk John Gleason told MLive. “I find it the easiest and I think it’s the easiest to administer because you just open the mail, you’ve got the mail and that’s it.”
That might become the new normal. Not only does the stunning turnout on a typically ignored election window in the middle of a crisis show that elections can be conducted well and safely during pandemics, it shows there is a hunger for absentee voting in general as well.
If Michigan’s May elections had simply had the average turnout of 12% or even tied the record of 15%, this election would have served as a proof-of-concept for elections during times of crisis management going forward. But with the turnout absolutely shattering that record, it proves a much larger concept.
Benson said “more citizens than ever are going to choose to vote from home” in November. “My goal is to ensure that every citizen knows that they have a right to vote by mail and they know how to exercise that right.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.