Election Analysis: A Look at Absentee Ballots Across Oakland County Cities

Election Analysis: A Look at Absentee Ballots Across Oakland County Cities

(Pleasant Ridge Mayor and Data Expert Kurt Metzger Aug. 31, 2020)

My last article discussed the overall August Primary turnout rates across Oakland County communities.  This one looks at the importance of Absentee Voting (no excuse mail in voting) in pushing the countywide turnout up from the last August primary.  My next will explore the extent of, and reasons for, rejected mail in ballots, so as to better prepare for the doubling of ballot requests that we expect in November.

Oakland County’s “official” voter turnout was 37.1 percent in August.  My analysis of Active Voters vs. Total Registered Voters (Facebook post on August 24) showed that we could assume the turnout was actually 42.0 percent when persons who have not voted for at least 6 years are removed from the denominator. [I am attempting to get the number of Active Voters by jurisdiction so as to recalculate their turnout as well.]

When we look at Absentee Ballots, we see that 33.7 percent of Total Registered Voters (38.1% of Active Voters) in Oakland County requested a ballot for August.  Over two-thirds (77.0 percent) of the requested ballots were returned, and these returned ballots represented 70.8 percent of the total votes cast.  The clear popularity of voting by mail is a strong indicator of the large volume of ballots that will be heading to clerks’ offices in November.

I have created several charts to better understand how absentee voting has played out across the county.

One looks at the percentage of voters who requested absentee ballots as a result of the universal ballot application form sent by the Michigan Secretary of State. [These calculations are based on “Total Registered Voters,” and will be updated once “Active Voter” numbers are obtained.]  Pontiac, Hazel Park and Royal Oak township had the lowest ballot request shares – all below 20 percent.  This correlates with the fact that these three also tend to have the lowest voter turnout rates in the county.  The high end of requests also correlates with high turnout.  Nine communities had request rates in the 40 – 49 percent range, while Huntington Woods, the perennial top turnout community, led all others at 54.9 percent!

It is interesting to look at the share of requested ballots that were actually returned.  While the overall county rate was 77.0 percent, there was a great deal of variation across communities.  Why some communities, such as Lake Angelus (55.4%), Novi Township (64.9%) and Keego Harbor (65.3%), had quite low return rates is difficult to understand.  On the other end, the traditional high turnout communities of Huntington Woods (86.7%), Pleasant Ridge (86.1%) and Lathrup Village (84.1%) returned better than 4 of every 5 requested.

Our last analysis looks at the share of each community’s voters who used the mail-in option.  Countywide, 70.5 percent of all votes came by mail.  While Huntington Woods led all others at 79.9 percent, it was closely followed by 17 other communities that surpassed the county average.  The bottom end of the distribution found Lake Angelus (41.9%), Novi Township (48.7%) and Keego Harbor (48.8%) below 50 percent.  Whether that indicates a preference for in person voting, a distrust of absentee ballots, or something else, I cannot say.

Oakland County voters gave a strong “Yes” in 2018 to universal mail in voting.  Results from the 2020 August Primary demonstrate that they followed their approval with strong usage.  While there were some ballot rejections (more about that next time), the share of the total was extremely small and local clerks reported few counting issues.  However, we can now anticipate at least a doubling of voter requests for November.  It is imperative that voters understand that they need to both make their requests and return their ballots as soon as they can.  It is hoped that the law will be changed so that local clerks can at least prepare these ballots for counting ahead of election day.  If that is not allowed, clerks will need to make sure they have adequate staff to handle both absentee and in person ballots in a timely manner.

For a look at overall voter turnout, check out our previous article Voter Turnout by City, Numbers Metzger Calls Disappointing.

For interviews with candidates for local offices, visit our Candidate Interview Page. New videos are added frequently up until Election Day, so please check back often!

For a complete list of candidates and ballot issues, visit the Oakland County Clerk’s Election Page.

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