Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a law allowing local clerks a limited window to process mail ballots ahead of Election Day, as election experts warn that the results of the 2020 election may take longer than usual to determine because of the time it takes to process and count absentee votes.
The law, which passed out of the Republican-controlled legislature and was signed by the Democratic governor, allows election clerks whose jurisdiction contains at least 25,000 people to start processing — but not counting — mail ballots for 10 hours on Nov. 2, the day before Election Day. Previously, Michigan election officials had to wait until Election Day to start processing mail ballots, which are expected to comprise a much bigger share of the vote this year.
However, officials in the state warn that it still may be days before the election winners — including the presidential race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump in the key battleground state — are clear.
“This does not change our statewide estimation as to when results will be announced this fall,” said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat. “We still expect that will be the Friday of that week … that we can expect every ballot will be tabulated. Now it may be sooner, but we want to manage those expectations.”
Benson had advocated for allowing for more time to process ballots, but the legislature did not go along with the plan. “It is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough,” Benson said.
The law also mandates that clerks notify voters within 48 hours if their ballot is rejected.
Election officials warn that due to the large number of mail ballots expected to be cast this year and state processing timelines, it is possible, if not likely, that it will not be clear on the night of Nov. 3 who has won the White House.
A POLITICO review of ballot processing timelines in 13 battleground states last month found that three critical Great Lakes battlegrounds — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — did not allow election administrators to begin processing mail ballots until Election Day.
Similar efforts to allow for more processing time in Pennsylvania have seemingly stalled, while any electoral changes in Wisconsin seem to be a non-starter.
In late September, Iowa Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate requested, and the state legislative council approved, a plan to allow clerks to begin processing ballots on the Saturday before Election Day, rather than the day before.
“That Monday is more than I had when we started,” Tina Barton, the Republican clerk of Rochester Hills, Mich., said in an interview in September, when the bill first passed out of the state Senate. “I’m going to celebrate that as a victory, and if that’s what they’re going to allow us to do … I’m going to take what I can get, because we need something.” Barton, too, said she wished that election officials had more time to process ballots.
On Monday, Benson said that a record 2.7 million Michigan voters have requested a mail ballot, and roughly 380,000 ballots have already been returned.