A record-breaking 1.6 million Michiganders voted remotely in Tuesday’s primary, but enthusiasm wasn’t shared equally: Many counties that went big for President Donald Trump in 2016 were less likely to vote absentee.
Overall, 65 percent of statewide voters cast absentee ballots, according to Secretary of State records provided to Bridge.
More than 70 percent of voters in Ingham, Washtenaw, Kalamazoo, Grand Traverse and Oakland counties all chose to vote by mail. All but Grand Traverse were among the strongest supporters of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Areas where voters showed the least interest in absentee voting — fewer than 40 percent of ballots in Osceola, Missaukee, Luce and Hillsdale counties — voted by landslides for the president in 2016.
That mirrors early indications that Trump’s criticisms of mail-in voting could impact on how Republicans make use of their new voting rights. Bridge reviewed races in Oakland, Macomb and Kent counties after the primary and found that more than 75 percent of Democratic voters chose to vote by mail while only 55 percent of Republicans did.
Some Republican strategists who spoke with Bridge said campaigns should adjust to encourage mail-in voting for November, while others say the gap between absentee and in-person voting won’t matter if Republicans turn out to the polls.
Make no mistake, the trend isn’t absolute. Trump won all but eight of Michigan’s 83 counties in 2016, and some that favored him including Ottawa, Bay, Genesse and Macomb counties had absentee voting rates of at least 66 percent.
The records also showed that counties with higher rates of coronavirus were somewhat more likely to vote absentee. Seven of the eight counties that voted for Clinton were in or near the top quarter of those counties with high rates of coronavirus. Wayne County, for instance, has the second-highest rate of coronavirus in the state and voted more than 68 percent absentee.
Tuesday’s election shattered records for both turnout and absentee voting. Around 2.5 million voters voted (in-person and by mail) in the August primary, surpassing the last record high for an August primary of 2.2 million voters in 2018.
The 1.6 million absentee votes beat the record of 1.3 million in the 2016 November election.
The surge of mail-in voting follows reforms approved by voters in 2018, including the right to vote absentee for no reason.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson sent all 7.7 million registered voters absentee applications earlier this year, arguing the mailing would help educate voters about their new rights amid a public health crisis.