Few people chose early in-person voting in February

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Just 4% of Michigan residents chose to vote early in person during February’s presidential primary.

In 2022, Michigan voters passed a ballot proposal requiring at least nine days of in-person early voting leading up to election day in federal and statewide elections. February’s election was the first in which the state required local governments to provide that option.

The Board of State Canvassers certified the February results on Monday.

Of the approximately 1.9 million people who voted statewide, about 78,000 voted early in person, according to initial data from the Secretary of State’s Office. Most people opted to vote by mail, with about 934,000 people choosing the absentee option.

SoS: About 78K people in Michigan voted early in person

“The lifestyle that voters live today, we want to make sure voters can participate not just within a 14-hour window on a Tuesday, but to be able to say, ‘I want to sit down on my kitchen table and research candidates and vote by mail,'” Ottawa County Clerk Justin Roebuck said.

In Ottawa County, 1,553 people voted early in person, just 2% of all people who cast their ballot in the February primary. It was significantly lower than the county clerk’s expectations, which, based on data from other states, predicted nearly a third of people choosing to vote early in person.

“It’s new to our voters,” Roebuck said. “I think it’s going to take a little bit of time for people to become aware this is an available option to them. We’re anticipating those numbers to continue growing through the year.”

How does early voting work? It depends on your county

Just 22% of registered voters cast their ballot statewide. In Ottawa County, overall turnout was 26%.

After the change in state law, many cities chose to implement early in-person voting alone. However, Ottawa County teamed up with nearly two dozen cities and townships to place four early voting centers across the county. They were in Grand Haven, Georgetown Township, Holland and in the Coopersville area.

“It’s going to be the four sites, it’s going to be the same days and it’s going to be the same hours for our voters both for the August and November elections this year,” Roebuck said

Working together and splitting the costs will save taxpayers $1 million in 2024, he estimated.

Low turnout for the first day of early voting

Roebuck said the county’s first go at early in-person voting went smoothly for election workers and voters.

“We were very pleased with how things went… Our election workers did a phenomenal job,” he said.

Ballots were not tabulated until after the polls closed on election night. For security, election equipment was sealed and stored in locked rooms overnight.

“This is the future of our elections process,” Roebuck said. “We need to make sure our elections are accessible to voters.”

Because turnout was lower than expected, Roebuck said more election workers staffed the early in-person voting centers than necessary. Fewer employees will likely be on the ground for the Aug. 5 state primaries and the Nov. 5 presidential election.

Turnout is expected to substantially increase for those elections. Turnout for the August state primary is typically around 60%, Roebuck said, and the November presidential election averages 70% turnout.

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Roebuck hopes that more people taking advantage of early voting could help things run smoother on election day.

“Anytime you can alleviate the pressures that are on our election workers on election day, it’s a good thing,” he said.

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