FILE - In this June 9, 2020, file photo, election workers process mail-in ballots during a nearly all-mail primary election  (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
FILE - In this June 9, 2020, file photo, election workers process mail-in ballots during a nearly all-mail primary election (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Local and county clerks are cheering on the ballots processing decision, saying it’s “desperately needed” for November.

LANSING, MI — Ingham County is gearing up for a record-shattering election Nov. 3. Both in terms of turnout, and in terms of votes cast by mail. 

“We are encouraging local clerks to order 100% participation ballot numbers,” said Ingham Clerk Barb Byrum. “I am working with local clerks to perhaps take on their absentee counting boards. Local clerks, in Ingham County certainly, are well-equipped and are dedicated servants.”

But Byrum told The Gander there is still something clerks in Ingham, and across Michigan, need. And it’s something only the Legislature can give them. 

“We are going to have a very high turnout, and it’s going to be high especially in absentee ballots,” explained Byrum, adding that Republicans in Lansing have been holding up the process for months. “It is very unfortunate that the Legislature is failing to enact legislation to allow local clerks the flexibility to process and administer their elections the best they can.” 

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Byrum refers to a measure that has spent months sitting in the Legislature and finally got Senate approval Monday but still requires approval by the state House. The proposal would allow the processing of absentee ballots the day before the election. 

“Not early tabulation, but early processing of ballots,” Byrum pointed out. “Taking the ballots, comparing the signatures, comparing the number on the ballot stubs to the number of the ballot that was issued to that voter, removing the stub, removing the ballot from the secrecy envelope, flattening the ballot. All of that.”

Under the proposed legislation, clerks could do those processes to prepare the ballots to be counted between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. the day before the election if they served a city or township with more than 25,000 residents. Once prepared, the ballots will remain in a secrecy sleeve and kept in secure containers sealed until normal counting procedures begin. 

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Many local clerks wanted more time, but are grateful for what this legislation would give them reports Bridge. Also, the bill won’t allow the ballots to be flattened and resleeved prior to election day as clerks like Byrum had hoped. 

“It’s not everything we wanted, but it will definitely help many of our communities,” Lansing Clerk Chris Swope told Bridge. “This is the limit of what the Legislature is willing to consider at this time, so it is a positive.”

Swope, president of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks, is one of the local clerks Byrum has been working with in preparation for the election. He says he expects the number of absentee ballots Lansing receives to be four times what it was in 2016.

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And absentee ballots take much longer to count. The entire processing process Byrum described adds minutes to the processing of every one of the 40,000 absentee ballots Swope is expecting to receive. 

Combined with a Friday court ruling that absentee ballots sent before election day and received within two weeks of the election must be counted, many of the concerns of Michigan elections officials are poised to be addressed in time for Nov. 3. The decisions, if in place on Election Day, would shore up an absentee voting system that must be more robust than ever during a global health crisis.

“It’s desperately needed for the administration of elections,” Byrum told The Gander.

But the trade-off is time. With more ballots that count able to arrive after election night so long as they were postmarked before election day, that long process of preparing a ballot to be counted can only be done in advance to what ballots the clerks have Nov. 2.