Michigan election officials are looking for help from the federal government to help all state residents vote safely this year.
As the state and country are still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a big question on many minds is how to protect voters from contracting the disease during an election. Michigan has already partially answered that question, even before the pandemic began, when voters approved a state Constitutional amendment allowing no-reason absentee voting for all registered voters in the state.
However, many people still enjoy going to the polls, so a coalition of voting experts, elected officials, health care professionals, and community leaders are asking for funding to protect those voters. In a news conference Thursday, June 25, county clerks Mike Hanley, Minde Lux, Ann Manary and John Gleason of Saginaw, Isabella, Midland and Genesee counties, respectively, outlined the need for that help.
The Vote Safe Michigan coalition is a bipartisan effort working to ensure Michigan residents don’t have safety concerns about voting this year. Each clerk said they didn’t want to see Michigan experience the same problems Wisconsin had with its April presidential primary, where there were extremely long lines and more than 50 voters and election workers later tested positive for the novel coronavirus, contracted during the voting process.
The trouble is funding. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson estimates at least $40 million will be needed around the state for the next two elections in August and November to ensure election workers have proper personal protective equipment, polling locations can be continuously sanitized, social distancing can be encouraged and more. Vote Safe Michigan is calling on Congress to allocate the money to protect voters.
Gleason says there simply isn’t any money at the local or state level to provide those protections. It’s especially troublesome in Midland County, after a state of disaster was declared due to the failures of the Edenville and Sanford dams on May 19, causing historic flooding of the Tittabawassee River and prompting the evacuation of more than 11,000 people from their homes. Manary says, however, all of the county’s polling locations are still intact.
While concerns of voter fraud from absentee voting are consistently raised in the media and by politicians, each of the county clerks say voter fraud is such a minuscule problem it’s practically a non-issue, and they aren’t speaking along party lines. Manary and Hanley are Democrats, Gleason and Lux are Republicans. Lux says there are many protections in place to prevent voter fraud, like signatures on absentee ballots needing to be verified, and a person can’t vote again at the polls once they’ve sent in their ballot.
Each clerk encourages absentee voting as a further way of protecting people from COVID-19, while still participating in a citizen’s civic duty. But Hanley says they want to ensure each individual can choose how they want to vote.