Michigan voter turnout higher than usual across the state, with few hiccups

Line to register to vote and cast a ballot at the University of Michigan, Nov. 8, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Jake Rollow, a spokesman for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, said Tuesday afternoon that the election has largely been running smoothly, with a few hiccups along the way that were swiftly rectified. 

As of 4:30 p.m., there were 2,022,885 absentee ballots requested and 1,807,127 absentee ballots submitted. Turnout is higher than usual, Rollow said on regular afternoon calls with the media.

There have so far been 8,828 same-day registrations.

Higher turnout than expected

There have been long lines on both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University campuses, mostly due to people registering to vote and casting ballots at the same time. Michigan has same-day voter registration under a constitutional amendment voters approved in 2018.

In Ann Arbor, that translated to more than two-hour-long lines for University of Michigan students waiting to vote at certain precincts.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor) spoke with students waiting outside the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) and walked down the line, encouraging them to not leave their spot. She told the Advance she was “excited” to see so many dedicated young people voting, but would also like to see them not have to wait as long.

“I’m concerned that there is this longer line, but happy that the kids are committed to staying and understanding how important it is to vote,” Dingell said. “It shows that they really do understand.

“From my General Motors days, I believe in continuous improvement. We need to work on this. … I want to hopefully address it for next year. But it does show that young people know how important this election is, and that makes me feel good,” she continued.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell talks at the University of Michigan, Nov. 8, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Detroit ballot issue and Trump tweet

After an early morning period where some Detroit voters were told that they could not cast a ballot at their poll site because they had already voted absentee, officials at the Department of State said the issue was resolved. 

Rollow said Tuesday morning that the matter was “only an issue in Detroit” and that a provisional ballot would have been offered to the voter and the ballot in that case “will be counted.”

On Tuesday afternoon, former President Donald Trump posted on the right-wing social network he founded, Truth Social: “the absentee ballot situation in Detroit is REALLY BAD. People are showing up to vote, only to be told ‘sorry, you have already votes.’ This is happening in large numbers, elsewhere as well. Protest, protest, protest!”

When asked by reporters whether there are plans to get law enforcement involved to deal with potential protests brought on by Trump’s tweet, Rollow said the department has been long prepared for such scenarios.

“We, our office’s clerk’s offices, including the Detroit City Clerk’s Office, have been in touch with law enforcement at the local, state and federal level for many months, [with] an expectation that there may be attempts to disrupt the election, the counting process, anything of that sort,” Rollow said. “So we have been prepared for this long before the former president issued his statements.”

A voter during the noon hour at Louis Pasteur School in Detroit, Nov. 8, 2022 | Ken Coleman

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who is up against GOP candidate Kristina Karamo in Tuesday’s election, said Trump’s post “isn’t true.”

What Trump was referencing was a temporary issue in Detroit, that has since been resolved, where election software at certain polling locations in Detroit was flagging in-person voters for already requesting an absentee ballot. 

Karamo, who filed a now-rejected lawsuit to require Detroit residents to vote in-person, called the hiccup “fraud,” but did not provide any evidence — which is what a judge chastised her on Monday when dismissing her suit. 

Rollow denied the Republican’s claim. 

What really happened is ballot numbers for precinct voters and ballot numbers being used for absentee voter ballots were identical and the ePollbook system recognized the duplicate ballot numbers, the Department of State said. The duplicate ballot numbers triggered the error warning, but the issue did not interfere with the votes being counted.

“We’ve seen misinformation spread about the complexity of elections for more than two years,” Rollow said. “It continues to be a threat to our democracy, a threat to voters’ safety and our elections. It’s really just an unfortunate part of the current political era.”

In a statement, the Election Defense Coalition said its members “believe that ordinary people are the ones who must determine our future, not any politician or political party.

“But instead of respecting the will of the people, a handful of rightwing politicians and MAGA-aligned groups have spent months planning to silence and intimidate Black voters in Detroit. We see their desperation for what it is. And we’re ready to mobilize with the same spirit of popular determination and unity that we have in the past. We’re turning out in high numbers this year, and demanding that every vote be counted and that the will of the people prevail.”

The Rev. Wendell Anthony, Detroit NAACP president | Andrew Roth

The Rev. Wendell Anthony, Detroit NAACP president, described the issue as “a clerical issue that can be resolved by a clerical correction.” 

Anthony told the Advance after 3 p.m. that the matter appeared to be resolved and that he was encouraged about Detroit voter turnout thus far. 

“I’m feeling good,” Anthony said.

On Thursday, City Clerk Janice Winfrey predicted that voter turnout would be between 28 and 33% in the city, lower than the 41% voter turnout in the 2018 midterm election.

Ann Arbor, Detroit poll challengers

Rollow said that one poll challenger in Ann Arbor earlier in the day made “repeated impermissible challenges” when voters came into the polling location, surrendered their absentee ballots and voted in-person instead. The person was either asked to stop or was removed, he said.

Surrendering an absentee ballot to vote in-person is legal under Michigan election law.

Another poll challenger issue happened later Tuesday afternoon in Detroit. According to Rollow, the challenger was standing in a hallway at the Edison School and telling voters that they did “not look like they were eligible to vote.”

That person either has been or will be removed from the premises, Rollow said.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.

Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.