Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson
said her office has so far recruited at least 2,000 workers for
the August and November elections to address shortages due to
veteran volunteers' safety concerns and because local clerks
will need extra staff to process a surge in absentee ballots.
The new workers—"democracy MVPs”—also will be necessary due to
Benson said long lines and other problems seen in primaries in
Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Los Angeles show that elections,
particularly prominent ones, ``are not the time to test new
technology.'' The second and more significant lesson, she told
The Associated Press in a recent interview, is that ``voters
need clear choices—both vote by mail or vote in person safely.”
The March presidential primary was the state's first major
election in which voters could cast absentee ballots by mail or
return them in person for any reason following passage of a 2018
constitutional amendment. The alternative, used by 39% of the
electorate, is seen as especially crucial during the pandemic.
Benson estimated that at least 1 million voters, ``if not 2''
million, will vote by mail for the first time in November.
The Democrat drew Republicans' ire last month after announcing
all 7.7 million voters will be mailed absentee ballot
applications for the elections, not just 1.3 million already on
a permanent list to get the form every time. A judge on Thursday
refused to stop the mailing, saying an application is merely an
application and two GOP state House candidates who sued showed
no ``irreparable harm.''
Benson employed the strategy on a smaller scale for the May
local elections, and there was record turnout. November will
pose a much bigger test.
``What we've learned by observing this whole process is that you
have to, especially this year, ensure that you have a robust,
effective vote-by-mail system in place with consistently
educating voters on how to use it and consistently supporting
election administrators who are working to keep the trains
running and make it all happen. But then at the same time, you
cannot limit options to vote in person,'' she said.
There are no plans to consolidate polling locations in November.
Benson said, however, that polling places may only be able to
handle half their regular volume due to social-distancing and
``We want to have that same physical option and then enough
other options in place to essentially reduce the number of
people who might choose that in-person option. You have less
crowding on Election Day, less lines on Election Day as result
and more people voting by mail,'' said Benson, who is pushing
the Republican-led Legislature to pass a bill to let clerks
start processing absentee ballots the day before Election Day.
The actual ballots would still stay inside secrecy envelopes
until counting on Election Day.
She said the structuring of in-person voting will depend on data
collected in the months ahead showing how many people request
Benson recently announced she will participate in listening
sessions in places with low turnout historically—precincts in
Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint, for instance. She said she is
concerned that voting issues in other parts of the U.S. have
sent a message to people of color and historically
disenfranchised communities ``that it's going to be extra hard
and unsafe for you to vote this year when the reality is
Voter outreach must be ``more than just about a voter
registration drive or inspiring people to vote or cutting
through perhaps apathy,'' Benson said. ``It's really about
delivering educational information about the nuts and bolts of
how you vote and what your rights are. I think we'll see a lot
of messaging transition into a how-to-vote as opposed to a
you've-got-to-vote message. I think a lot of people know they've
got a vote and now it's really a question of how.''