Benson, Whitmer and Nessel, masked, address Michiganders. Photos courtesy the Office of the Governor.
Benson, Whitmer and Nessel, masked, address Michiganders. Photos courtesy the Office of the Governor.

Baseless concerns about the security of this election haven’t deterred more than 1 million early voting Michiganders. They trust this process.

LANSING, Mich.—As President Donald Trump continues to try and undermine faith in democracy, Michigan’s leaders are continuing to push back and safeguard the November vote. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Wednesday both defended the integrity of the election amid continued attacks from Trump, saying results may take longer in close contests because of the surge in absentee voting in the battleground state—but that every valid ballot would be counted.

“If it takes a few extra days to ensure we have a full and accurate counting as a result of every race, that’s what it’s going to take,” Benson said on Meet the Press. “We’re going to be transparent throughout that whole process to make sure every citizen knows exactly where we are in the counting process and how many more ballots we have to get through.”

Gov. Whitmer encouraged people to take advantage of their right to cast an absentee ballot for any reason—including in person at their clerk’s office—to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus at a polling place on Election Day. She echoed calls for anyone who still has a ballot to either hand-deliver it to a clerk or put it in a secure drop box instead of using the mail. Ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on election night to be counted.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said that with just days to go until Election Day, more than 2.4 million absentee ballots had been returned out of the more than 3.2 million that were requested. She said people’s votes would count, and she urged voters to be vigilant against attacks that “seek to challenge our faith in this very strong elections process that we’ve built.”

Trying to Put a Thumb on the Scales

Trump, who is facing Democratic nominee Joe Biden, has falsely suggested there is “massive fraud” in mail-in voting, saying the election is “rigged.” He said Wednesday that he hopes courts will not allow states to “take a lot of time” after Nov. 3 to count votes under the baseless argument that the longer it takes to determine the winner, the less legitimate that winner’s victory would be.

In fact, claims about election fraud have been widely proven false for years, particularly in the current election cycle where casting doubt on the process has been a tactic repeatedly employed by Trump.

But Trump has incentive to make sure the election is decided as quickly as possible. As absentee ballots take longer to count and more Republicans are expected to vote in person at the polls, discounting ballots counted later in the process could confer significant political advantage to Trump by throwing out otherwise valid votes for his opponent.

“Depending on how close these races are, it may take a few days to determine who the winners are,” Whitmer said at a news conference in the Capitol. “That’s okay. Our local election clerks across the state will be working to get the count right. That’s what really matters.”

But Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank argues that getting the count right is not just not a priority for Trump, but actively preventing an accurate count is his strategic decision to keep control of the Oval Office.

“The fix is in,” wrote Millbank. “Republicans have won the popular vote for the presidency only once since 1988, and the Senate Republican majority has for years represented a minority of the population. But they have used this minority rule to stack the judiciary, including six of the nine Supreme Court justices. Now Republican billionaires are financing a legal war to block voting rights—and the judges the minority Republicans installed on the courts are trying to shield Republican power from the will of the people.”

Setting the Problems Right

Detroit has a long history of election challenges, so in advance of the strenuous process the city has ahead of it, Mayor Mike Duggan has reallocated all the city’s public employees to assisting with counting votes following the Nov. 3 election. Benson has also worked with Detroit’s clerk to avoid the kind of problems at the polls Detroiters have faced in the past. 

The state has also worked with blind Michiganders to address their challenges voting remote as well as debunked challenges to the legitimacy of Michigan votes by explaining, for instance, that dead people aren’t voting in Michigan. 

But some of the biggest reforms the process has sought have been blocked by courts, including counting all ballots submitted before Election Day regardless of when they arrive or prohibiting guns at polling places.

Attorney General Dana Nessel said that regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit filed by gun-rights groups, “the polls will be safe and secure. We don’t intend to have law enforcement at the polls, but they will be nearby in the event that there are any sorts of issues whatsoever.”

Whitmer and other top state officials warned against voter intimidation, saying it is illegal. The state has appealed a lower judge’s decision that blocked Benson’s ban on the open display of guns near polling places on Election Day.

Why Voting Will Be Safe and Sound

The state is not expecting any problems at the polls, she said. Neither are local officials, like Traverse City Clerk Benjamin Marentette.

“I think the folks in Traverse City really recognize that absentee voting has been a secure, proven, safe and accurate method for voting for years and years and years,” Marentette told The ‘Gander. “There are some folks who ask about the process. I’m always glad when they do. At the end of those conversations, the sense I have is that people walk away understanding it’s secure.”

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, who oversees local clerks in cities like Lansing, told The ‘Gander that Ingham’s local clerks have the resources and support they need for a fair and accurate count. 

“The local clerks in Ingham County, certainly, are well-equipped and are dedicated servants,” she said. “I am confident they will conduct a smooth election in November.”

And everyday voters like Ashleigh Jennings believe the system is robust and secure as well.

“We know the votes matter and we need to give the process time to work,” she told The ‘Gander. “Folks will vote however they’re most comfortable—by absentee or in person—[and] we do not need to add to the chaos and confusion.”

When asked if she was concerned about the election occurring during a resurgence of COVID-19, Whitmer said she was more worried about other events before Nov. 3 such as Halloween and Saturday’s Michigan-Michigan State football game. She urged fans to not hold watch parties and to instead root for their teams virtually with others over Zoom.

“Stay safe,” Whitmer said, while also recommending would-be voters to vote now if they can rather than doing it in person Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.