State Reps. Kara Hope and Leslie Love. Photos courtesy their offices.
State Reps. Kara Hope and Leslie Love. Photos courtesy their offices.

With a primary election Aug. 4, two state representatives are trying to smooth out the voting process in time to bring support to local clerks.

LANSING, MI  — Next Tuesday, Michiganders will take to the polls largely by mail once again, in the final major test of mail-in voting before Election Day in November. 

“If COVID-19 is still a problem come election time in August and November, 56% of people say that they will be voting by mail using an absentee ballot,” Progress Michigan spokesperson Sam Inglot told The ’Gander. “People are definitely concerned by COVID-19 still. From masks to how they vote, we’re seeing that people want to stay safe.”

Progress Michigan partners with Public Policy Polling to produce the magazine Lake Effect, which included data suggesting Michiganders were cautiously supporting voting by mail in light of concerns about the pandemic. Michiganders are also almost evenly split on if voting in person is safe — one third believe it to be absolutely safe, one third believe it to be somewhat safe, and one third believe it to be absolutely unsafe. 

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State Representatives Kara Hope (D-Holt) and Leslie Love (D-Detroit) are working to help county and city clerks prepare for the upcoming elections. 

“Our current election infrastructure is not designed to process the number of mail-in ballots that are anticipated in the August and November elections,” Hope told WILX. “Our clerks and election workers need the tools to handle the higher volume of mail-in ballots. If we don’t make these changes now, we are putting ourselves at risk for long lines at the polls and even longer election reporting delays.”

Their bill was introduced before the state of emergency caused by the pandemic, in February. In light of the overwhelming majority of May’s record turnout voting by mail, though, Hope and Love have been calling on their colleagues to move the legislation forward quickly to provide additional infrastructure improvements to assist in the flood of absentee ballots clerks expect in advance of Tuesday’s election. 

Their legislative package, House Bills 5447-5450, aims to offer several solutions to the voting process, including allow long election workers to work in shifts and starting to count ballots the day before the election to ease the burden faced by millions of absentee ballots. Their legislation also dedicates $1.5 million to pay election workers and hire additional staff as well as $3 million for the purpose of getting local governments high-speed tabulators to speed up the vote counting process.

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“[Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson], our county clerks and elections workers are giving the people of Michigan their all. But they need these reforms to better serve the people of Michigan,” Love said. “We are still in the middle of a global pandemic and our state primary elections are right around the corner. We can’t delay any longer.”

Clerks have concerns about the strain the electoral system will be under Aug. 4, as increasing absentee voting was met with record turnout in May. 

“I’m concerned that on the backs of clerks and on the backs of election workers is going to rest on Election Day the responsibility to process thousands and thousands of absentee ballots and keep precincts open,” said Rochester Hills clerk Tina Burton, a Republican. “We’re being tasked with something that to me is a recipe for failure, a recipe for disaster and a recipe for a breakdown in the process. While we fuss over political ideals and political opinions.”

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Benson said her office is doing what it can to make sure the election runs smoothly, like increasing election worker hiring efforts and providing voters needed information through education and outreach. But she, too, worries about the politics impacting the process. 

“There will be efforts — strong, well funded, national and perhaps internationally-led efforts — to try and confuse voters about their votes and their rights in our state,” she said in May. “If you removed that misinformation campaign that no doubt will come for many reasons to further various political agendas and partisan agendas … it would go very well, very smoothly. I have no doubt about that.”

Days after making that statement, Benson was engaged in correcting misinformation President Donald Trump spread on Twitter, The ’Gander reported. Trump also threatened to withhold an unclarified source of funding from Michigan if the state conducted an election largely by mail, as the Aug. 4 election is expected to be.