TRAVERSE CITY — Dan Beaudoin is no stranger to absentee voting, but the Traverse City resident’s latest attempt left him puzzled.
Beaudoin said he mailed in his application for his ballot, only to receive it back in the mail with no explanation. Stranger still, it arrived in an envelope that gave the city Clerk Benjamin Marentette’s name and his office address as the return address.
When Beaudoin delivered his application in person, he was told it must’ve been an issue with the U.S. Post Office, he said. He’s seen media reports of other applications being returned with the same reason given.
“My argument is, the post office did not take my application, put it in an envelope, stamp it and return it to me,” he said.
Marentette said he couldn’t be sure what happened with the application unless he saw the envelope Beaudoin received back in the mail — Beaudoin said he doesn’t think he kept it and was looking for a picture he may have taken.
It’s the first time Beaudoin had any issues with absentee voting, he said. He did receive his ballot after delivering the application himself, and is waiting until Wednesday to fill it out and mail it in.
“I’m waiting to see the results of Super Tuesday,” he said. (That’s when 14 states hold nominating contests.)
Marentette said he’s not aware of any issues with absentee ballot applications coming into the city, although he acknowledged the likelihood of his office making a mistake increases as more and more voters apply.
“Certainly when you see an increase in the intensity of work and there’s more work, there’s a higher probability of making some mistakes,” he said.
There’s plenty of work to do: Traverse City voters applied for more absentee ballots for the March primary than for the 2016 presidential primary, Marentette said. Applications in as of Feb. 21 were 47 percent higher than the entire 2016 primary turnout, he said.
Marentette said he added two temporary employees to handle the application influx, and plans to add even more ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.
The swell of applications is even greater statewide. The Secretary of State reported 776,790 absentee ballot applications statewide as of Feb. 25, up from 443,248 at the same point in 2016. Returns at that point were up, too, at 386,749 compared to 243,389 in 2016.
Those surges follow a change Michigan voters passed in 2018 to allow no-reason absentee voting. It has raised concerns that elections officials could be swamped with absentee ballots that, by law, they can’t start counting until Election Day. That could mean delayed reporting of election results.
Marentette said he thinks the city won’t be late in reporting results for the Nov. 3 presidential election. He’ has added an absent voter counting board to bring the total to three.
Elections workers could be swamped if more voters shift to absentee ballots, Marentette said. He cited Minnesota, where 80 percent of ballots are filled in outside of the poll booth following a similar change to the state’s absentee voting rules. A similar shift in Traverse City could cause issues unless state elections laws change.
“Either give clerks more time to begin tabulating the ballots before election day, or else it’s going to quite possibly delay the reporting of results, because there’s only so much bandwidth,” he said.
The issue came up in a committee on which Marentette served that focused on implementing changes voters adopted in 2018, and modernizing Michigan’s elections, he said.
State Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, proposed a change that would let clerks in cities and townships with 10,000 or more active voters preprocess absentee ballots. They could open the envelopes and remove ballot stubs the day before Election Day but couldn’t count them early, according to bill language.
Johnson, formerly Michigan’s secretary of state, chairs the Senate Elections Committee that approved the bill 5-0.
State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, at first opposed the change, then later indicated he’s open to it but still undecided, Michigan Public Radio reported.
Voters still have time to apply for an absentee ballot ahead of the March 10 presidential primary. Applications for mailed ballots are due by 5 p.m. the Friday before election day, according to the Michigan Secretary of State — March 6 for the presidential primary.
Or, request them in person up to 4 p.m. the day before election day. Applicants must be a registered voter to get a ballot, and can check if they’re registered at https://mvic.sos.state.mi.us/
The Associated Press contributed to this article.