Jul 22, 2022 - Politics

Slow ballot returns could mean voter enthusiasm is lagging

Illustration of a voting booth with a roof on it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Voters have gotten off to a slow start this election season.

Driving the news: Absentee ballots are being returned at a much slower pace than in 2018, SOS data released this week shows.

  • Just 34% of the state's 1.1 million absentee ballots have been returned two weeks ahead of election day — that's 17% less than the same point in 2018.

Why it matters: Slow ballot returns may signal low voter engagement ahead of midterm elections.

What they're saying: Jonathan Kinloch, chair of the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party, tells Axios he predicts primary voter turnout in the city will hover around 15%.

  • The expected abortion access measure on the November ballot should increase turnout in the fall. But, "Right now, in Democratic primaries, I don't see it being a major factor," he says.

Details: Almost 125k ballots sent to Wayne County voters were not returned as of July 5, compared to 71,340 by July 10, 2018 — a return rate of 9% this year and 28% in 2018, according to BridgeDetroit's Malachi Barrett.

  • Returned ballots are down in Detroit — 14,319 have been returned, compared to 17,115 at the same point ahead of the 2018 primary.

Context: Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced in March her office's decision to not mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters like it did for the 2020 presidential election.

  • "We've seen already that a significant number of local clerks are sending out absentee ballot request forms this cycle," Benson told Axios last month. "So any effort for us to do it on a state level potentially would be duplicative and unnecessary."
  • Several third party groups have mailed nearly 120,000 absentee ballot applications to supplement the 108,000 sent to the permanent absentee voter list by Detroit's Department of Elections, Daniel Baxter, former Detroit director of elections, tells Axios.

What's next: Benson is encouraging voters to send absentee ballots to their local drop box or clerk's office to avoid postal delays.


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