The room where it happens: Processing a record number of absentee ballots in Marquette

A dozen election workers are assigned to the task of handling 6,600 early ballots at Marquette City Hall.
Published: Nov. 3, 2020 at 12:04 PM EST
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - With a record number of absentee ballots to process in Tuesday’s presidential election, the Marquette City Clerk says a dozen election workers are assigned to the task at Marquette City Hall.

“It’s been a bit of a challenge just because of the sheer numbers,” said Kyle Whitney. “Absentee balloting has been increasing for a while, but what it means on the ground is that it’s a lot more work for our office staff ahead of time.”

Whitney is thankful he has enough workers on Election Day.

“Everything I’ve heard from clerks locally and across the state is that their numbers of workers for the November election put them in a much more comfortable place than they’ve been in some number of years, and that’s true here, too.”

Workers couldn’t touch the ballots until polls opened Tuesday morning. Whitney says 6,600 absentee ballots were returned in Marquette, as of Monday afternoon. The city has about 15,000 registered voters.

Twelve workers are running the ballots between four different tabulators Tuesday. They can’t leave the room until they’re finished.

More than three million Michigan citizens cast absentee ballots, said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

“Ballots come in through the mail,” Benson said. “Clerks then verify the signature of the voter to confirm their identity before the ballot is prepared to be tabulated. Then on Election Day, the ballots are sorted into precincts and run through machines.”

Two million more voters are expected to cast ballots Tuesday, Benson said, possibly surpassing Michigan’s total turnout record set in 2008 when just more than 5 million Michigan residents cast ballots.

Benson says while the record number of absentee ballots may slow down counting in larger communities, she expects results from U.P. clerks to come in at a reasonable time.

“Now in the Upper Peninsula, and other jurisdictions around the state, you might get results much sooner, and we’re going to report results as we have them,” said Benson. “But in terms of the full, unofficial tabulation, Friday at the latest is our estimate.”

That might delay statewide totals in the presidential race, where Michigan has 16 electoral college votes at stake.

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