Absentee ballots key to strong voter turnout for Cass County primary election

CASSOPOLIS — Cass County voters made sure their voices were heard in the August 2020 primary election.

A total of 10,578 ballots were submitted from Cass County voters according to Cass County Clerk Monica McMichael, up from 5,888 in 2016. Of the county’s total ballots this year, 6,431 — roughly 60 percent — were absentee ballots, compared to 1,668 in 2016.

“That is a huge increase from any other office primary,” McMichael said. “The bad thing for our clerks is that all of them were thrown into this. The local clerks handle absentee ballots and got the brunt of this work. Dealing with absentee ballots is labor-intensive on the clerk and extremely expensive for the townships. Everyone put extra hours and rolled their sleeves up.”

McMichael attributes the increase in voter turnout to the mass mailing of absentee ballots. A provision of Proposal 3, which Michigan voters passed in 2018, stated that Michigan residents could obtain an absentee voter ballot without providing a reason. In May, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson mailed absentee ballot applications to more than one million registered Michigan voters due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t see as many people come out for primaries unless there is a hot local race,” McMichael said. “We had a lot of local proposals which people were interested in, but the absentee ballots caught people’s attention. Times have changed. If you don’t see it on social media, or if you can’t click it on your phone, it’s just not convenient for people. Voting absentee makes things convenient. People can cast their vote without having to worry about risking their health.”

McMichael is an advocate for absentee ballots and hopes that legislation passes that gives clerks more time and resources to process absentee ballots.

“Anyone that wants to vote absentee should have the option to do so,” McMichael said. “I just hope that our legislators adjust the law if this is how the job is gonna go from here on out.”

According to state law, clerks cannot start counting absentee ballots until 7 a.m. on election day, which makes it difficult for districts to tally final votes. However, McMichael and township clerks were able to handle it.

“I was really proud that Cass County got everything tabulated on election day,” McMichael said. “I’m really proud of the hard work put in without legislation passing to make it easy on our clerks.”

While surprised by the number of absentee ballots submitted, McMichael noted that voter errors on absentee ballots led to many ballots being ineligible.

“In today’s society, everyone is in a hurry, and no one reads instructions,” McMichael said. “Ballots are rejected because people cross vote, and the tabulator kicks them out. If you vote in person, you can redo it but not if you vote absentee. So many of the absentee votes didn’t count because you can’t correct them. There are so many mistakes you can make on the ballot. We want everyone’s vote to count.”

In light of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order requiring all Michigan residents to wear a mask in indoor public spaces and crowded outdoor spaces, McMichael was happy to announce that no incidents were reported at the county’s many polling places.

“You hear horror stories about people being rude about masks,” McMichael said. “I have not heard one story about people giving clerks a hard time. It doesn’t surprise me because Cass County is wonderful, and we have a great population, but you always have that concern. No matter what side of the fence you fall on, everyone put their feelings aside and allowed us to have a great election.”

Based on the numbers from this month’s primary election, McMichael is anticipating a strong absentee turnout for the November elections.

“We shall see what November brings,” McMichael said. “Almost everyone who voted absentee in August will vote for absentee in November as well. We could have another amazing turnout.”

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