TRAVERSE CITY — More Traverse City voters filled out their city commission election ballots at home, in their cars — or wherever.
Of the 4,189 votes counted Tuesday, 49 percent of them were absentee ballots, city Clerk Benjamin Marentette said. That marks a continuing trend of more and more absentee turnout, and recent changes in state law could push it even higher, he said.
“In the next four years, I think 80 percent of our turnout will be by mail,” he said.
That’s based on city trends, and what happened in Minnesota when the state switched to “no-reason” absentee voting, Marentette said.
Michigan voters agreed to do the same in 2018 when they adopted Proposal 3. Gone is the previous age requirement of 60 or older.
Marentette said he attributes the high percentage of absentee ballots cast to the change. His office also sent out letters to every registered voter asking them if they wanted to apply to vote this way. Those who wanted to only had to fill out the form, snap a picture and send it to the city clerk’s office.
Breaking down the numbers shows how increasingly more city voters choose to do so away from the polling booth, with 37.2 percent voting absentee in 2015 and 42.4 percent doing so in 2017, Marentette said.
“I think that we’re only going to see the number of people, the percentage of people that vote absentee just continue to rise,” he said.
Total turnout was out of 12,756 registered voters, and Marentette said overall turnout is growing as well. That’s in large part because of the growth in absentee voters. His hope is that more people participate now that the method is freely available, rather than just shift their voting method.
Proposal 3 also allowed people to vote straight-party and register to vote on Election Day — Marentette said about a dozen people registered to vote Tuesday.
Voters in other elections in northwest Michigan turned out in about the same numbers as Traverse City electors did.
Leelanau County, often among the top in the state for voter turnout during national and statewide elections, showed up in smaller numbers to vote for or against a countywide Early Childhood Services millage — Northport village and Leelanau Township voters also voted on whether to form a Metropolitan Authority District to share sewer system costs.
Thirty-two percent of registered Leelanau County voters cast a ballot, or 6,608 out of 20,441, unofficial tallies show.
Compare that to 71.4 percent in 2018, when Leelanau County voters had a governor, U.S. senator and representative on the ballot, among others.
More voters cast absentee ballots than in-person in deciding whether Northport and Leelanau Township would form the Metropolitan Authority District — the question failed. Unofficial tallies show 529 of the 800 votes cast in Leelanau Township and 204 of the 288 votes cast in Northport were absentee ballots.
Messages left with Leelanau County Clerk Michelle Crocker weren’t returned Wednesday.
Benzie County Clerk Dawn Olney said she didn’t have turnout figures yet, but heard from townships that it was light.
Voters across Benzie County came out to decide whether Benzie County Central Schools could borrow $47.85 million and levy 2.98 mills over 26 years to pay it back — they rejected the ask 1,573-1,674.
Absentee ballot trends were scattered, Olney said. Some townships had a lot while others, not as many, she said.
Almira Township Clerk Tammy Clous said 135 of the 399 votes cast Tuesday were absentee ballots. The township has 2,103 registered voters, and turnout was fairly comparable to that of other off-year elections, she said.
Clous thinks it’s too soon to draw any conclusions with how “no-reason” absentee ballot rules are affecting demand, she said.
“I would personally probably have a better answer for that after next year’s election,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.