Michigan’s Aug. 4 primary mistakes could be November’s greatest tests.
MICHIGAN — Michigan’s Primary Day set records for absentee voting and turnout as voters relied on the safety of mail-in voting during the pandemic.
For those who cast their ballots the traditional way in person, changes in the pandemic slowed the process and caused hiccups around the state.
Poll workers at suburban locations managed crowds with concierge-like service, coming to get voters from their cars when it was safe for them to enter the building and providing PPE like masks and hand sanitizer.
Protective measures were also taken in large Michigan cities like Detroit and Flint, but access to the polls in these areas hindered mostly Black and brown communities, which have historically faced more voting problems than other groups during elections across the country.
A Portrait of the Day
Hours after polls opened, Detroit poll workers – those who actually showed up for work – were still setting up ramp access for wheelchair-bound voters at Frederick Douglass Prep Academy. Some locations remained closed until enough workers were in place to allow voting to proceed. Three are required to run a precinct, by law.
Detroit also changed polling places in the days leading up to the election without notifying voters of the updated voting locations. The decisions led to confusion.
In Redford, a western suburb of Detroit, Benjamin Pollatz, 26, worked the entire day at the polls without a break. The Redford Township resident signed up for election work when he about the clerk’s staff being removed from the election due to an unrelated lawsuit.
“The day was very hectic during the busy times,” he told The ‘Gander. “Our chair had to depart due to a significant family emergency, so only the three inspectors who showed up were running everything.”
Pollatz said he and his team sanitized ballot sleeves and pens after every voter, taking up a lot of time during his more than 12-hour shift.
“Usually, it was slow,” Pollatz said of voter foot traffic. “But at the 4:00 p.m. rush, it was nonstop voters lined up out the door.”
Secretary Jocelyn Benson said the issues are opportunities to fine-tune election operations by November.
“We know of three locations in Detroit and one in Flint where there were some challenges,” Benson said, noting that she’d visited Northwest Unity Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit earlier in the day.
The polling location was one of several across the state that opened late due to no-show poll workers, according to the Detroit Free Press. Polls at Dixon Educational Learning Academy and Cooke Elementary School in Detroit also opened late.
Detroiters like Eric Thomas were disappointed.
“I apologize I didn’t realize is [sic] was about to be a train wreck to this magnitude,” Thomas, city of Detroit chief storyteller, wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday.
In Flint, early voters faced similar issues when a polling precinct failed to open on time after workers opted out of duty.
State-trained workers were sent to fill in gaps at polling locations across the state, with over 200 of them deployed to Detroit alone, according to Benson. Some 6,000 workers were trained to backfill needed positions at polling stations throughout Michigan.
Almost 2 million voters requested absentee ballots ahead of the Aug. 4 election, and 900,000 people returned those ballots, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Just half-a-million Michiganders requested absentee ballots in the 2016 primary.
Ensuring a Smoother General Election
There are still many barriers to voting for Michiganders. For example, ballots stuck in the mail are not counted if they are received late, even if they are postmarked on time.
The ‘Gander previously reported State House Representatives Kara Hope and Leslie Love who are working to give city and county clerks more time to count votes. Despite receiving absentee ballots weeks in advance of the election, they cannot be opened and counted until polls open on the election day.
“It’s one of the most important changes that needs to happen in advance of November,” Benson said of the need for additional time to count the influx of ballots.
Overall, the secretary of state outlook on the day’s election was positive.
“It’s really been a momentous election day and a preview for what we can expect to see in November,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said to reporters Tuesday evening. “What we saw today was enormously high turnout, a lot of people voting by mail, and people still choosing to vote in person. When they did vote in person, there were no lines, things went smoothly.”