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COVID-19 creates new Election Day challenges for Detroiters

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Posted at 5:22 PM, Aug 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-05 06:47:46-04

DETROIT, Mich. (WXYZ) — The COVID-19 pandemic has changed elections in America like nothing we have ever seen. 7 Action News is watching closely to see what happens on Primary Election Day to learn what that could mean for the presidential election in November when turnout will be greater.

COVID-19 has lead to problems that we didn’t see in the past. In Detroit, 25 polling locations had to be changed relatively late in the process. Twenty schools hosting summer school and five churches did not feel comfortable welcoming the public into their buildings during a pandemic.

“This is a form of voter suppression in the City of Detroit,” said Soummer Crawford.

Crawford says she received a letter from the city clerk’s office dated July 24 out of her mailbox the night before the election. It read that her polling location had changed.

“Check – always check where you are supposed to be voting at,” said Beverly Belau, another voter who found out her polling location changed.

Cook School, Dixon Academy and Northwest Unity Baptist Church opened late because workers called in on the morning of Election Day. In Detroit, poll workers signed up when COVID-19 rates were lower in June.

“We had seen that happen in other states around the county so what we did yesterday and in the past few weeks is train people to be on hand to backfill positions where vacancies occurred and that is exactly what we were able to do,” said Jocelyn Benson, Michigan Secretary of State.

“People are afraid. They are afraid to come out in the precincts,” said Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, regarding why people called in.

To make them feel safer, poll workers are wearing PPE, booths are socially distanced and everything is being sanitized regularly. Masks are being provided to workers and voters who need one.

The pandemic also means clerks will be busier than ever processing absentee ballots.

“Two million people have requested to vote by mail in this election," Benson said. "That is almost twice as many as ever before."

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says she expects some communities to report results later than normal as they deal with an increased number of absentee ballots.

In some communities, the delay could be a couple days, she predicts.

Winfrey says in Detroit she expects to have ballots processed by the evening of Election Day.

“We did purchase high speed tabulators and new equipment that can process 1,000 to 2,000 ballots an hour," she said. "I am hopeful that all should go well at TCF.”

There are also concerns about the ability to process ballots when turnout is greater in November. Secretary of State Benson and Clerk Winfrey are calling for the law to be changed to allow clerks come November to start processing absentee ballots the day before Election Day.

“We want time to be able to process that ballot, to open it, lay it out, compare the signatures," Winfrey said. "Those things that are very manual."

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.

Key Dates & Deadlines

Thursday, Sept. 24: Absentee ballots mailed out
Monday, Oct. 19: Last day to register in any form
Tuesday, Oct. 20 - Tuesday, Nov. 3 at 8 p.m.: Voter registration allowed in-person at local clerk
Friday, Oct. 30 at 5 p.m.: Last day to request absentee ballot by mail
Monday, Nov. 2: Absentee ballots must be postmarked to count
Tuesday, Nov. 3: In-person voting begins; polls open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.