TRAVERSE CITY — Many local election results followed suit with the national tallies. Slow.
Grand Traverse, Antrim, Benzie, Kalkaska and Leelanau counties all saw record-breaking absentee voting, which was in line with the statewide trend.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said final statewide results will require patience, for at least another 24 hours. That’s because of a record number of absentee ballots — an estimated 3.3 million, she said.
It’s going to take some time to count all those votes, Benson said.
“We are going to count every single vote in the State of Michigan no matter how long it takes, no matter what candidates say — we are going to work methodically and meticulously to count every single valid ballot,” she said.
Benson also estimated between 2 million and 2.5 million voters cast ballots in person. Additionally she highlighted the approximately 28,000 voters who registered in person Tuesday before voting, largely in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids.
Benson said she didn’t want to sound trite or cheesy, but “the winner is democracy” in Michigan given the incredible voter turnout, no matter how they cast their ballots.
Grand Traverse County Clerk Bonnie Scheele started her workday at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. Scheele crossed her fingers for full results at 2 a.m. Wednesday, but she said the results could arrive as late as 4 a.m.
At 1 a.m., Grand Traverse County officials reported a voter turnout just north of 47 percent — 38,326 — of the more than 81,000 registered voters. Scheele said more than 19,000 absentee ballots of the 38,085 submitted to townships had yet to be counted.
Most of those ballots were in East Bay and Garfield townships and the City of Traverse City. Scheele said absentee ballots from Acme and Paradise townships also hadn’t been yet been tallied.
“This was expected,” she said.
Scheele attributed the slow pace to a record number of people voting absentee and the manual labor required to process those ballots.
“The numbers were floating like water. They kept changing,” Scheele said, adding there were a lot of people registering to vote Tuesday.
Scheele said the high-speed tabulators should have sped up the process, but the manual labor of opening the absentee ballots and feeding them into the tabulators resulted in delayed results.
“The tabulators can process a lot of ballots, but there’s still a ton of ballots that you’re checking signatures on, you’re counting, all that prep work before you even stick them in the machine,” Scheele said. “So yeah, lots of work.”
Nearly 7,000 Traverse City voters sent in absentee ballots, an approximately 250 percent increase over 2016, city Clerk Benjamin Marentette said.
“So it’s a massive amount of absentee ballots compared to the amount that we’ve ever received before,” he said.
A team of 20 elections workers counted them, and Marentette figured the votes would all be tallied by 1:30 a.m. Plans were to send the absentee ballot vote totals to Grand Traverse County election workers all at once.
Marentette said a new machine that processes about 100 ballots every 90 seconds was a great help, and without it he may not have all the votes counted until much later. The machine helped, but elections workers still needed to look at ballots with write-in candidates or too many selections for races with multiple seats to fill.
Kalkaska County Clerk Deborah Hill said she thought township election officials kept a good pace in cranking out results amid what seemed record numbers of votes cast.
“Especially factoring in most of the townships didn’t have time to run their absentee ballots until the polls closed. Historically, they’d have gaps in between voters and they’d run the absentee ballots through,” she said.
That was late Tuesday, just before midnight, with results from four townships still outstanding.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen this kind of turnout,” she said.
Hill explained that not only were more absentee ballots requested and returned, but more voters turned up at the polls in person. More of both types of votes simply meant more work to do, she said.
“They certainly had more ballots to process this year,” Hill said. “What a voter turnout.”