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Michigan: Presidential primary count to be later than normal

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson speaks at a news conference about election security and later-than-typical results being expected in the state's presidential primary next week on Thursday, March 5, 2020, at the Romney Building in Lansing, Mich. Benson said clerks will face challenges because it is the first major election since voters approved a ballot initiative authorizing no-reason absentee voting and registration through Election Day. (AP Photo/David Eggert)

By DAVID EGGERT
Associated Press
LANSING–Michigan’s top election official said Thursday to expect later-than-typical results from next week’s presidential primary because of a surge of absentee ballots and other factors.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Tuesday’s election is the first major contest since voters in 2018 authorized no-reason absentee voting and same-day voter registration. Absentee ballot requests are up 80% compared to the 2016 presidential primary.
“I want to set the expectation that Tuesday’s unofficial results will be available a little bit later than we may want or expect,” Benson said, stressing that people should not think that could suggest errors or fraudulent activity. “On the contrary, the later-than-usual results are evidence that our clerks are working diligently … to carry out the additional work on their plate in a way that is ethical and accurate.”
As of Thursday, nearly 573,000 absentee ballots had been cast out of roughly 910,000 issued. Almost 16,000 absentee ballots had been scratched, or “spoiled” — a process by which voters can change their preference and start over after several Democratic candidates dropped out of the race. At least 12 Democratic candidates — the latest was Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Thursday — and two Republicans have withdrawn since Michigan ballots were printed. Absentee voting began in late January.
Benson, a Democrat, said “it’s pretty clear” that clerks need more time to process absentee ballots before Election Day. Bills that would let local officials start opening return envelopes for absentee ballots the day before have failed to advance in the Republican-led Legislature for now. The actual ballots would still stay inside secrecy envelopes until counting on Election Day.
“It’s, to me, amazing that we’ve had such a hard lift to communicate that effectively,” she said. “But I’m hopeful that Tuesday will show even more why that additional time is necessary for moving forward with our elections. Frankly, the national spotlight that will be on our state throughout the year imposes on all of us who care about Michigan, and how Michigan is seen nationally, to do everything we can at every step of the process this year to make sure elections go smoothly.”
She said the state’s election systems are “more secure than ever.” All jurisdictions use paper ballots, and a paper record is created when tabulator machines count votes. Some jurisdictions will connect the tabulators to the internet to send unofficial results after counting is done, while many will call or drive their results to the county clerk’s office, she said.
Benson said security upgrades have been and will continue to be made to Michigan’s qualified voter file.