During the first debate between President Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, President Trump raised questions about the safety and integrity of elections this November. But Michigan clerks and election officials have said for months now that they have no such fears--rather, their primary concern is whether they can produce results in a timely manner on Election Day, as the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to lead to a significant increase in absentee voting.
In response to concerns about swiftly processing a large wave of absentee ballots, the Michigan House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would allow city and township clerks to physically prepare ballots for counting the day before the November election. Some clerks say they could still use more time.
To get a better idea of what helps ensure fair and safe absentee voting, as well as what kind of timeline voters can expect when it comes to Election Day results, Stateside spoke with Barbara McQuade. She’s a former U.S. Attorney for eastern Michigan and a law professor at the University of Michigan. She’s also currently part of a cross-partisan group called Vote Safe Michigan working to safeguard the state’s voting process amid the pandemic.
McQuade said folks should prepare themselves for the possibility that they might not know who the victor is by Election Night. “And I think that’s fine,” she said. “The lack of a clear winner on Election Day doesn’t mean there’s anything fraudulent or anything wrong. It just means it takes some time to count those ballots.”
Because of the pandemic, this isn’t a typical election year. The public needs to be aware of that and tolerate waiting a little longer for results, McQuade recommended.
“Having a few extra days to sort through that, I think, is a small price to pay to ensure that the will of the people prevails,” she said.
McQuade said that because many people are concerned that voting in person could put their health at risk, it’s important to figure out how to vote absentee safely. That process was made a little easier back in 2018, when voters passed a ballot initiative approving no-reason absentee voting in Michigan.
But there’s some additional steps that voters filling out absentee ballots should be aware of. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office has implemented a number of these practices, McQuade explained.
“Things like making sure that you have to sign the back of the envelope, so that your signature can be compared with voter rolls, is a way to avoid voter fraud,” she said. “Using a barcode to track your ballot, so if you put it in the mail, you’re able to check its progress and see where it's going. And expanding the locations where you can drop off your ballot.”
During the debate, Trump also urged his supporters to monitor polling places. In Michigan, people can become election challengers or poll watchers, but there are rules they need to follow, and neither has the right to approach or question voters. And, McQuade said, there’s a difference between poll watching and voter intimidation, which is a federal crime.
“The idea that people could just show up in masks at the polling place to show their support for President Trump--I think state election officials should and would put a stop to that,” she said.
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Nell Ovitt.