Ballots being prepared for early voters. Photo courtesy Taylor City Clerk Cindy Bower.
Ballots being prepared for early voters. Photo courtesy Taylor City Clerk Cindy Bower.

Before the sun rises on Election Day, Michigan will already be halfway past the total votes cast in 2016.

LANSING, Mich.—Michigan is already halfway to the total number of votes cast in 2016 and it isn’t even Election Day.

In 2016, just under 1 million Michiganders returned their absentee ballots for the presidential election. This year, that number is more than 2.5 million. Nearly 80% of all absentee ballots requested in 2020 have been returned as of Nov. 2 according to data provided by the Secretary of State

The 2.5 million votes cast so far in Michigan make up more than half of the total votes cast in 2016. 

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At the county level the difference between 2016 and 2020 is striking. Ingham County, where Lansing is located, saw 30,000 absentee ballots returned in 2016. On a Thursday press call, Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said there had been nearly 80,000 absentee ballots received in 2020.  

Roscommon County has the highest rate of return at nearly 90%. Out of Michigan’s 83 counties Wayne—where Detroit is located—ranked 78th in terms of return rate, but even Wayne County saw more than three out of four requested ballots returned. 

“We’re seeing an incredible amount of enthusiasm from Michiganders excited to participate in our democracy,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told WXYZ. “Voters have more options than ever before for how to register and cast their ballot. And that’s why we’ve been working around the clock to ensure citizens understand those options and can exercise their rights in the way that works best for them.”

What Michigan’s Early Voters Look Like in 2020

According to Secretary of State data, the older a Michigander is, the more likely it is that that person returned their requested absentee ballot, with 65% of the youngest Michiganders returning their ballot and over 90% of the oldest returning theirs. 

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This can be attributed in no small part to two factors first the dangers posed voting in person by the coronavirus pandemic. Older Michiganders are at higher risk for severe reactions to the coronavirus, and the major spike in coronavirus infections that prompted Covid Act Now to declare an active outbreak in Michigan Thursday makes remote voting safer for older Michiganders.

Lansing early voter Stasi Castilla worried about getting the coronavirus if she voted in-person on Election Day. Though Benson has said all polling places will have proper personal protection equipment, Castilla said that if early voting wasn’t an option for her, she would not participate in the election.

“It’s important to vote, but I probably wouldn’t have voted because my health is more important,” Castilla said, turning in her ballot on Saturday.

The other major factor behind the rise in absentee voting is the sudden accessibility of doing so. In 2018, Michiganders passed a slate of election reforms that included permitting absentee voting without needing to provide justification for doing so. Part of both managing the pandemic and implementing this wider access to absentee voting has included Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson sending all eligible voters applications for absentee ballots.

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And this has had positive effects for voters.  Samantha Broadbent from Allagen voted by mail for the first time in August 2020 and again in the November general election and found that being able to vote from her couch made it easier for her to look up names on the ballot she didn’t know. 

“I opened it and there was the envelope it came in, the secrecy envelope and then my ballot which I did on my couch and then I just put it in the mail. I did like it,” she told The ‘Gander. “It did give me more time to look over the candidates and make a more informed decision.”

Troubleshooting the Election

There are other reasons people voted absentee as well. Okemos voter Bri Griffin said on Saturday before she cast her ballot that she thought about the long lines and crowds and opted not to vote Tuesday out of concern over tensions.

“This is a pretty intense election, not that anything will happen on Election Day, but I wouldn’t want to put myself in the position,” Briffin said.

If something does go wrong on Election Day, The ‘Gander has a guide to help voters troubleshoot the election.

The total number of rejected ballots sent in to local clerks that have been rejected is under 2,000, which amounts to one tenth of one percent of total votes received. And still 20% of absentee ballots haven’t been received. 

Voters can check if their ballot has been received or rejected on the Michigan Voter Information Center website. If voters still have their ballots, they can drop them off with their local clerks or at the ballot drop box in their precinct. 

Early voting in Michigan is still underway. Check The ‘Gander’s election hub for the information you need to take to the polls and make your voice heard.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.