By Matt Christopherson

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A sharp increase in the number of people voting by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic could slow the counting of ballots in Michigan’s August primary and the November general election, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Wednesday.

Nearly 2 million registered voters have requested to vote by mail for the Aug. 4 primary. Just over a million people cast ballots by mail in the 2016 general election.

Local election clerks are asking for more time to process what they expect will be a large influx of absentee ballots, Benson said.

Under election rules, the counting of absentee ballots can’t begin until 7 a.m. on Election Day. Legislation that would allow clerks to start processing ballots the day before the election is stalled in the Michigan Legislature.

If a package of bills to ease restraints on clerks doesn’t pass by the August primary, results could come two days after Election Day and may take even longer in November.

“This will create undue pressure and stress for our elected officials that is unnecessary, and our officials will have to work through the night, increasing the potential for human error,” Benson said. “It also, importantly, creates a lag between when the polls close on election night and when the results are announced that will create a space to enable bad actors to falsely raise questions about the sanctity and security of our elections.”

Eighteen states allow absentee ballots to be counted before Election Day, including Florida where clerks can start 22 days before an election, she said.

The state is providing local election clerks with high-speed ballot tabulators. About 5,000 Election Day workers have been recruited to bolster staff at polls.

“I think we all want to prioritize accuracy over speed,” Benson said. “We’re doing everything we can to get more machines, more people to increase capacity, but we also need to just manage expectations.”

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Matt Christopherson

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