(TNS) — Kim Oatneal said she usually votes in person on Election Day.
But on Monday afternoon, the 63-year-old Detroit woman strode into Northwest Activities Center in Detroit to drop off her absentee ballot.
"I want to make sure that my vote counts," Oatneal said, before entering the building. She's concerned about potential coronavirus transmission on Election Day and also about the reliability of the postal service for mail-in ballots, amid increasing questions about delivery delays. "Because of the … closing down mail boxes and sorting machines," she said, explaining her worries about changes with the postal service.
Oatneal was one of several voters who came to the Detroit center to drop off their ballots or vote on site on the first day it was open for voting. The Northwest Activities Center is one of Detroit's 23 satellite voting locations one of the 30 total drop boxes. Each of the satellite centers will have drop-off boxes voters can place their ballots in or centers where they can register to vote, pick up ballots, and vote on site. In addition, there are 7 other stand-alone drop-off boxes in the city.
Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey said she is trying to assure Detroiters that their voting rights will be protected and their ballots counted. There has been concern about voting and tabulation problems in Detroit in recent years. There were only seven satellite locations for the August primary.
At stake is the outcome of a state that is seen as a swing area for the presidential election. In 2016, Trump defeated Biden in Michigan by only about 10,700 votes — the closest margin in any state. Officials in Michigan are predicting a record number of ballots cast this year and are trying to make sure voting goes smoothly. Trump received only 3.1 percent of the vote in the city of Detroit in 2016, the lowest among big cities, according to the New York Times. But turnout for Clinton was lower than for Barack Obama four years prior, which some say played a role in her defeat.
Speaking to reporters inside the Northwest center on Monday, Winfrey said her office is "working hard" with city, county, and state officials to "ensure that all of our voters have an opportunity to vote safely and to vote smart. And don't forget: if you choose to vote on Election Day, all of my precincts will be open."
Winfrey said that the city will have about 10,000 poll workers on Election Day, who will be paid $500, up from $175 in previous elections. She said they've had challenges finding workers because "a lot of people don’t feel safe" due to the pandemic, but are close to hiring all the workers they need.
On Monday afternoon, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson visited the Northwest center to pick up her absentee ballot and encourage residents to use satellite locations as an option.
Speaking to reporters before she went in, Benson said "citizens can register to vote, get their ballot, which I'm about to do today, and return their ballot if they'd like to. If they get their ballot here, citizens can return their ballot, not just at a clerk's office or satellite office, but at the one of over 30 drop boxes that are secure and monitored all throughout the city. … citizens can go to michigan.gov/vote to find out the locations of any satellite offices in their communities."
Winfrey said the drop-off boxes in Detroit will be monitored by security cameras and by volunteers with radio patrols, such as those in the Warrendale neighborhood, who attended Winfrey's press conference Monday to show their support.
"People can stand rest assured that the boxes will be monitored, not just with the camera, but with our wonderful volunteers of the city of Detroit's radio patrol. … They'll be in all of the neighborhoods throughout the city of Detroit."
Secretary Benson said that as of Monday, about 380,000 voters in Michigan have already cast their ballots and 2.7 million Michigan residents have already requested ballots, a number she said will continue to increase.
The state is anticipating "extraordinary levels" of voting, Benson said. She's urging voters to cast their absentee ballots as soon as possible.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is also encouraging voters to cast their ballots early. On Wednesday, he voted at the Butzel Family Recreation Center.
"The process took less than 15 minutes," Duggan said, reported PBS NewsHour. "Very efficient. And you don't have to worry about the postman. I encourage everybody. … You can come in and vote right now."
Cedrick Brown, of Detroit, was at the Northwest Center this week to drop of his ballot instead of voting on Election Day because of health concerns.
"This COVID-19 going on, it’s just too much," Brown said. "I'm trying to be safe, Plus I'm taking care of two older people. I'm not trying to catch and take it back home to my family."
In recent years, the city of Detroit and Winfrey has faced criticism for problems with voting at precincts that were understaffed or had technical glitches. And during the primary in August, there was some inaccurate counting of absentee ballots in 72 percent of precincts.
Last month Winfrey and Benson announced a joint partnership between the city and state to jointly oversee November elections in Detroit.
Winfrey said that some of these problems are hard to avoid, in part because state law in Michigan says that there can't be a recount of precincts where the number of votes does not match the numbers recorded in the poll book.
"That's not a city thing," Winfrey said when asked by the Free Press about the problems the city has faced in previous elections. "That's a legislative thing. What happens is that when you do not allow administrators of elections to work in shifts, when you do not allow free processing, those kinds of things happen.
Winfrey said that some mistakes are expected from people working long hours.
"You can't expect perfection from imperfect people, especially imperfect people that have worked more than 20 hours consistently," Winfrey said. "That's a lot to ask for anyone and then ask them not to make an error. In Michigan, we cannot recount if an error has been made from human error, you can't recount. That's like saying you can't be prohibited from making a mistake. That's unfortunate."
On Tuesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill that will give clerks more time to process ballots before Election Day. They can't count them, but can do administrative work to process the ballots so the counting is quicker.
Winfrey said the legislation that was approved can help her office tabulate the ballots, but she cautioned that results will not be ready the night of Election Day.
"In the city of Detroit, every ballot that's cast has always been counted. Recouted? Maybe not, but counted initially — absolutely. So voters can rest assured that that will continue to happen. Will it be Election Day results? Probably not. … We're going to be slow, we're going to be methodical. We're going to take the time we need, and we're not going to let the media pressure up for results on election night, because it will probably be election week."
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