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Sec. of State Benson: Michigan election process went "incredibly smoothly"

persoon handle ballot to poll worker
Katie Raymond
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson expects votes to be tallied by Wednesday night. Prior to the election she'd warned the count could last until Thursday or Friday.

Beyond the races, the candidates, and the rhetoric, Election Day featured logistical challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a surge of interest in the election.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson joined Michigan Radio's Doug Tribou on Wednesday morning to talk about how things went at the polls and during the count so far.  

Big turnout

For months, there's been discussion of how the state and local clerks would handle the high number of absentee ballots in Michigan - 3.3 million of them total, according to the state. On top of that, more than 2 million Michiganders turned out to vote in-person.

"Things went incredibly smoothly. I know it doesn't feel like that right now because we want to know the results and we're used to getting results in [sooner] and we want to know all of that. But the bottom line is historic numbers of people voted in Michigan yesterday and throughout the fall," Benson told Michigan Radio. "Those [absentee] ballots could not, under state law, begin being counted until [Election Day]. So, I'm really gratified at the election workers who worked really efficiently ... to tabulate every vote in our largest jurisdictions."

A concern in Flint

The state received reports on Election Day that some voters in the Flint area were receiving robocalls telling them to wait an extra day to vote because the lines were too long Tuesday. There is no voting on Wednesday. Benson says the state is still investigating, but the effort to keep people from voting seems to have failed.

"It did not appear to dampen turnout," she said. "To me, the good news was we heard about it in the morning. It was reported to us, and almost immediately the attorney general launched an investigation. And we launched a comprehensive effort to make sure every voter in Flint and throughout the state knew that it was indeed Election Day."

How open carry at the polls played out 

Ahead of the election, Benson attempted to set a rule banning the open carry of firearms at polling places on Election Day. That rule was eventually blocked by a state court. The Michigan Supreme Court did not take up the appeal filed by the state in time to issue a ruling ahead of the election.

"I hope that we can all ... celebrate that so many people did vote in Michigan, absentee and in-person, which is a good thing for our democracy."

Benson says she is not aware of any problems at the polls related to people carrying guns.

"I'm very gratified that citizens by and large heeded our request. We did not see disruption at the polls. But voter intimidation is illegal. And we were very clear and unequivocal about that throughout the entire election season," Benson said.

"We saw much more joy and celebration, frankly, at the polls throughout the state. People were proud to vote. People were excited to vote in every community. And that was really the dominant emotion, the dominant story more than any type of disruption at the polls."

Observations on observers

In the weeks prior to the election, many groups in Michigan announced plans to serve as poll watchers or challengers. 

"We saw plenty of people observing, which is perfectly fine, and poll watching is part of our system here in Michigan," Benson said. "It does help with transparency to have an open process. We were worried a little ... because so many groups had applied to have challengers that we might see some crowding at the polls. But by and large, we didn't get reports of that. Any issues that were that did occur were dealt with quite swiftly, right on site."

End in sight

Prior to the election, Benson warned that results might not be available until Thursday or Friday, but she now expects them by Wednesday night.

"I hope that we can all, at the end of this, celebrate that so many people did vote in Michigan, absentee and in-person, which is a good thing for our democracy."

Lauren Talley contributed to this story.

Editor's note: Quotes in this story have been edited for length and clarity. You can hear the full interview at the top of the page.

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Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Radio staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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