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Governor Whitmer Provides an Update on Coronavirus and Voting in the Upcoming Election

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Lansing, MI – September 20, 2020 – Governor Whitmer help a press conference on Wednesday, September 16th to give an update on the coronavirus and remind people to vote in the upcoming election.  Listen to the press conference below or keep reading for the full transcript.

Listen:

Governor Whitmer:
Good afternoon and thank you for tuning in. Today is Wednesday, September 16th. I am joined today by Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, our chief medical executive. Our secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson. NAACP Detroit Chapter president, Reverend Dr. Wendell Anthony. Michigan League of Women Voters recent president, Judy Karandjeff and Michigan Emgage executive director, Nada Al-Hanooti. I am very pleased to be joined with all of them today. The November elections are just 48 days away and secretary Benson and I are here today to make sure everyone knows how to exercise their right to vote and how to do it safely in the midst of this global pandemic. This has been an unprecedented year for elections in Michigan and across the country.

Since the pandemic hit our state over six months ago, secretary Benson and her team have been working around the clock to ensure that every Michigander can vote and can vote safely. Thanks to their hard work, we have had two historic elections in Michigan while fighting COVID-19. The August 4th statewide primary resulted in record breaking turnout where 2.5 million Michiganders participated. That was a record for an August election. With 1.6 million voting absentee, it shatters the previous record for absentee ballots cast. This was a result of the collaboration between local, state and federal officials, coupled with a sustained voter education effort to inform people of their rights and how to exercise them. This is exactly the type of hard work and planning that secretary Benson and leaders across Michigan are putting into our November election preparedness, where we expect another record breaking turnout to those of you who have not yet requested your absentee ballot, go online and request it today.

Michiganders should start taking action now. Today is the day to have a plan for voting. You can register and request your absentee ballot online or at your local clerk’s office. Ballots will be sent to voters starting September 24th, and should be returned as quickly as possible to ensure postal delays do not prevent them from being counted. And I don’t know if you got a postcard from the U.S. Postal Service like I did this week, but it was just to encourage us to act swiftly. They want to make… drop your ballot in the mail, but go ahead and take it directly to your clerk’s office. That is an easy way to ensure that your ballot gets counted. Be sure to sign them before you turn them in. To check register… Michigan.gov/vote, or you can call your local clerk’s office.

Every single one of us needs to make a plan, schedule time in your day to fill out your ballot and make sure you take it in, make sure your friends and your family members and your neighbors do the same. This year, we have emerged as a leader in facilitating safe elections during this pandemic. By ensuring all Michiganders know how to vote safely in this November election, it’s no doubt a Herculean undertaking, and it’s going to require that leaders at all levels of state government, or community leaders and Michiganders, everyday Michiganders to get out and spread word. Just like fighting this pandemic, democracy is a team sport, and we all have a part to play this fall. So no matter who you’re voting for or how you choose to exercise your right to vote this fall, make your plan now and stick to it. Yesterday, the Senate passed a bill, Senate bill 757, which allows clerks to begin processing absentee voter ballots prior to election day. This is a step in the right direction and it will help ensure an efficient election. I want to thank the Michigan Senate for taking this first step. I’m hopeful that the house will take the step as soon as they can. And that we will continue to work together with the secretary of state to make sure that Michigan is proud of how we handle this election in this unprecedented moment. We’re not out of the woods yet when it comes to COVID-19 and the pandemic. As we head into the fall, the 2020, 2021 flu season, there are a lot of precautions that we can and should take right now to protect ourselves and to protect our loved ones and our communities. Whether you plan on heading to the voting booth in person or voting by mail or dropping off your ballot, you can help by getting a flu shot, by wearing your mask. The CDC today is saying, this is the most important tool that we have, which of course Dr. Jay and our experts have been telling us that for a while, maintain physical distancing and avoid large gatherings.

I know we’ve been through a lot together and it’s hard and it’s taken a toll. And yet we know how to do this and to do this well, we have shown that. So let’s keep doing it. We got to do everything we can to avoid a devastating second wave, one that would cost more lives and jeopardize the economic gains that we have made. So let’s everyone be smart mask up and be safe. And with that, I’ll turn it over to Dr. Joneigh Khaldun.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun:
Good afternoon and thank you Governor. So today we will announce 113,863 cases of COVID-19 in the state and 6,623 deaths. Overall, the state is at a rate of 57 cases per million and our test positivity rate is now at 3.7%. The Detroit, Saginaw and Traverse City regions all have declining case rates. Detroit and Saginaw have more than 40 cases per million people. And while the cases in these areas are declining, test positivity is increasing. The Traverse City region has 31 cases per million people. And test positivity is below 3%. Both indicators are going down in this region, however. The other five regions in the state have increasing case rates. The Kalamazoo and Jackson regions remained at over 40 cases per million people. The Grand Rapids, Lansing and Upper Peninsula areas have increased to more than 70 cases per million people.

These increases are in large part because of outbreaks associated with universities and colleges. However, our deaths remain steady averaging under 10 deaths per day. And we’re glad that this number is not as high as it was back in March and April, but our hearts are still with those who are still losing loved ones to this disease. We also know that people are surviving after being infected with COVID-19. There are over 85,500 people in Michigan who have survived and are alive at least 30 days after the onset of their symptoms. And that’s a good sign, but I want to be very clear, death is not the only outcome that matters. Many people who survive COVID-19, do not immediately get back to their normal state of health and have a prolonged period of recovery. Some people who live end up needing a lung transplant, some people live, but they end up having kidney failure and needing to be on dialysis. And we know there’s evidence that some people have inflammation of their heart, something called myocarditis.

Some people have inflammation of their heart, something called myocarditis and children are not spared from this disease either. I was so saddened to hear this week of a two month old baby in Michigan who died because of COVID-19 and my condolences go out to their parents and family. Studies show that while children are less likely to get severely ill from COVID-19, they still can, and they can also pass it on to others, including adults who are more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19. Almost 800 children across the United States have been diagnosed with multi-system inflammatory syndrome, otherwise known as MISC, a disease associated with COVID-19, that can cause multiple organs to fail.

16 children across the United States have died from MISC. COVID-19 is not something to be taken lightly, and the measures that the Governor has put in place are important to not just stop people from dying, but to stop people from getting a disease that can have … We’re fighting COVID-19 because we want people to not only live, but to have long lives with good health, not living the rest of their life … So, I’m asking everyone to please, regardless of your political affiliation, wear your mask, wash your hands and keep your distance as much as you can between yourself and others. I know many people are also wondering about why some places are still closed and some have specifically asked why bars are not open, even though people can purchase an alcoholic beverage in a restaurant.

There’s data that shows that many outbreaks of COVID-19 across the US have originated in indoor bars and restaurants., Bars in particular are associated with unique risk factors, lots of people, tight spaces, and alcohol leading people to change their behaviors and increasing the risk of spread of COVID-19. Here in Michigan, prior to the Governor tightening her executive order, there were several outbreaks at bars that impacted hundreds of people. While we’re still trying to get a handle on this virus, it is very appropriate for our bars to remain closed. 2020 has no question, been a very difficult year, but we will not be living like this forever.

I’m truly optimistic that a safe and effective vaccine will be developed and may even be available this fall. I’m optimistic that there is promising data that some people may benefit from new treatments, like the antiviral drug from Remdesivir, or from steroids. We’re going to get through this, but we need to all step up and slow the spread of this disease together. Wear your mask, wash your hands, watch your distance, and please this season, get your flu shot. With that, I’ll turn it over to Secretary Benson.

Jocelyn Benson:
Thank you, Dr. Khaldun, and thank you, Governor for hosting today’s press conference and for your bold data-driven leadership, as you successfully lead our state through this unprecedented moment. I’m immensely proud to serve alongside this leadership team and grateful for the support that you Governor and others have shown in support, ensuring that we are ready for November. As we all navigate this time of uncertainty, I’m proud to be able to give our citizens the certainty and the clarity that our elections will happen on time and on schedule. Already, we have had three elections this year, where we’ve seen record turnout, record numbers of citizens voting by mail and little to no crowding or lines on election day.

Our elections will continue to be accessible, safe, and secure, just as they have been this year. Voters will have, this November, as they have had this year, several options to ensure their votes are counted and their voices are heard. We’re on track to replicate our success of this year for November, and indeed, perhaps the silver lining of 2020 is that our voters … want to talk about today. This is important because we know that even in the midst of this global pandemic, we are on track here in Michigan to see a record number of citizens voting this fall.

Our overall turnout will likely exceed 5 million, and we’re also on track to have more people voting prior to election day than ever before, either through the mail or in-person at their local clerk’s office, and we are also … Requested to have their ballots sent to their home, which exceeds our previous record of 1.6 million who voted absentee in our August Primary. This is putting us on track to have over 3 million of our citizens voting absentee this November. As we prepare for roughly 60 to 70% of our citizens to vote absentee, we are also working to ensure that on election day, our citizens will have access to precincts and they’ll be able to exercise their option to vote safely in-person at their local precinct.

Now, with less than seven weeks to go, it’s time for every citizen to make a plan to vote. Let’s talk about your options. First, you have a right to have your ballot mailed to you. Mailing your ballot is a really good option, especially for those who have voted by mail in the past and are familiar with the procedures or for those who may be at risk or have concerns about voting in person. If you want to have your ballot mailed to you, you can right now, go to michigan.gov/vote and request it to be mailed to you, either through the online portal, or you can download an application and fill it out and submit it to your local clerk.

You can also contact your local clerk directly and request to receive an application at your home. Ballots will begin being mailed on September 24th. Once you have your ballot, you can complete it, put it in an envelope, sign the envelope, and then drop it off either at your mailbox and return it through the mail. You can return it instead, if you want to, at your local drop box. A list of those drop boxes will be available at michigan.gov/vote, or you have the option to return it in person at your local clerk’s office. Finally, you can track your ballot just as you track a package through our statewide tracking system available at michigan.gov/vote.

Another option you have is beginning next week, on September 24th, you can vote in person, early at your clerk’s office. You simply show up to your local clerk’s office, complete the form, receive your ballot, fill it out right then and there, and you can return it and you will have voted. You can do this and exercise this option up until 4:00 PM on Monday, November 2nd. Finally, as I mentioned, you always will have that ability to vote in person at your local precinct on election day. If you do want to exercise that option, you can confirm the location of your local precinct at michigan.gov/vote. When you do show up to vote on election day at your local precinct, you will be greeted by poll workers, wearing masks, gloves, and face shields.

You will find the precinct to be sanitized with social distancing guidelines and protocols in place to protect your health and ensure that you don’t risk your health in casting your vote in person. Finally, democracy is a team sport. We are on track to have a successful election, but we need everyone to do their part to ensure that we pass that finish line successfully. Our clerks are doing their part, working tirelessly as they have all year to juggle unprecedented demands and challenges, while embracing record turnout and centrally processing more absentee ballots than ever before.

Please thank your local clerks, because they are the true heroes in our effort to ensure secure, accessible election, amid record turnout. You can also sign up to join them as a poll worker, one of democracy’s most valuable players at michigan.gov/democracy MVP. But when our polls close on election night know that many of our clerks and their election workers will be working through the night to ensure that they process these ballots and count them securely and efficiently, so that our results, when they are ultimately reported are truly an accurate reflection of the will of the people.

For our legislature and our federal government, we do need more support. We need to update our laws here in Michigan to ensure, among other things, that ballots sent prior to election day, but and postmarked as such but received after election day, perhaps a day or two after election, still count, because no voter should be disenfranchised due to the delays in the postal service. We still also need more time to process absentee ballots prior to election day. While I joined the Governor and thanking the State Senate for passing a reform that is indeed a step in the right direction, states like Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, and many others have additional days and time that go beyond the 10 hours granted in the legislation passed it yesterday.

The State Senate proposal will ultimately net our clerks on average, of three additional hours to process a ballot, and that is simply not enough if we’re going to meet the extraordinary demands that our clerks and our Absentee County boards will be facing this fall. Finally, I remain hopeful that the federal government will include additional funding this year to ensures states are able to meet the unique needs of successfully managing an election, with record-breaking turnout in the midst of a pandemic. But for all of us, we also need to fight the efforts that will escalate in the coming weeks, that are designed to prey on the anxiety and use fear of the unknown to cause confusion and falsely make our citizens afraid to vote by mail or in person.

I ask all of you, if you see or hear anything suspicious, anything that sounds wrong or that’s just plain confusing about your right to vote this year, report it to my office. You can send an email to us at misinformation@michigan.gov. Again, that is misinformation@michigan.gov. When you see something, say something and enable us to respond with trusted information that you can rely on to protect your voice and your vote this year. We’ve also set up a website, michigan.gov/electionsecurity, where you can track responses to these reports, as well as track everything we’re doing to secure your vote and our elections this year.

We’re entering the final stretch of what may be one of the most contentious, highly-polarized election cycles that any of us have ever seen. We can, and we will succeed to ensure our voices, the voices of all of our citizens are heard and that every vote is counted. But it’s going to take every single one of us working together, making a plan to vote and remaining vigilant against attempts to misinform our citizens, to ensure that we crossed that finish line successfully. Yesterday, my office launched our Democracy Partners Program to celebrate many of the nonpartisan partners that have joined with us this year in ensuring that we provide support to meet these extraordinary needs. I’m proud to be joined by some of these partners today, and I want to turn it over to them, to share their work and commitment to democracy. Thank you.

Wendell Anthony:
Let me say good afternoon to everyone. I’m Wendell Anthony, President, Detroit branch NAACP. Let me thank Governor Gretchen Whitmer for her stellar leadership in this COVID- 19 experience. She has been bold. She has been targeted and she’s not letting anybody take her off point. Let me also acknowledge the work of Secretary of State and Jocelyn Benson. Michigan used to be among the last, when it comes to voting preparation, participation and education and protection. Now we’re really about number one, same-day voter registration, applications, and also the ability to do early voting. Those are steps. We also thank the Senate for taking one step in terms of giving an extra day for the count, but we need them to take through two, three, four, or five, because this is just not enough, but it is just the beginning.

Today, I’m pleased to join with the Governor and the Secretary of State in the noble effort to reassure Michiganders that our elections are safe, secure, and that all votes will be counted. In this era of voter suppression, along with the misinformation and miscommunication from some of our nation’s leading officials, we must speak up and speak out now.

… one of our nation’s leading officials, we must speak up and speak out now. It is vitally important that the citizens know that we still live in a democracy. Voting is at the very heart and essence of preserving our republic. The Detroit Branch NACP remains committed to voter participation, preparation, and the general public of their rights as citizens, their access to the voting booth, absentee balloting, and the elimination of any barriers to exercise their constitutional right to vote. We are here to urge every citizen to think critically about any information that you hear to be contrary. Further, we want to indicate our commitment to protecting the rights of our citizens in the exercising of their civic duty. We at the Detroit Branch are assembling the largest body of lawyers and advisors for the November general election.

We will not tolerate any individual or groups that threaten our seek to prevent members of any group from exercising their right to vote. We look forward to working with Secretary Benson’s office as we urge you also to utilize the email misinformation@michigan.gov or call the Michigan Bureau of Elections. We will not just depend upon the US Postal Service or any other institution that may have leaders standing in the doorway of providing access to the voting booth. Every citizen has a stake in the outcome of this election. We must all work fervently to make certain that no elected or appointed official is able to drive a stake in the heart of this election. We will have monitors and observers leading up to and on election day. This is our time. This is our day. This is our responsibility. We should not be turned back by those who seek to destroy democracy, eliminate opportunity, and disrupt the quality of life in our communities.

Let us always remember the words and one of the founding members of our nation, Thomas Jefferson, “The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government and to protect its free expression should be our first object.” We are here today to indicate our support in the effort to defend and protect the free expression of the voting electorate. Now it is not the time to step back. Now is the time to step up and there take your souls to the polls and vote like your life depends upon it because quite frankly, it does.

Judy Karandjeff:
Good afternoon. My name’s Judy Karandjeff and I’m recent, past president for the League of Women Voters of Michigan. I too want to thank the governor and secretary of state and Dr. J for all of the work you have done to prepare for the election and to keep us informed about COVID. The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan organization that promotes political responsibility through informed and active participation in government. We are celebrating our hundredth anniversary. We host candidate forums that hopefully many of you have attended that educate voters and candidates and races at the federal, state and local level. Through print and online voter guides, including Vote411.org, we provide voters with essential information about the candidates and ballot issues so they can make informed decisions.

They also have important information about election dates, voter, registration, and other issues. We encourage all voters to turn to trusted sources of information like our voter guides, like Vote411.org and the information provided by the secretary of state and local election clerks. We will work with all of you here today to assure that if anyone sees the election information that is untrue or suspicious, they report it to the Department of State by emailing misinformation@michigan.gov. Thank you.

Nada Al-Hanooti:
Hello. First I would like to thank the governor and the secretary of state’s leadership during this pandemic. My name is Nada Al-Hanooti and I am the executive director of Emgage, Michigan. And we are a nonprofit focused on getting the Muslim and minority communities, politically engaged and equal participants in our democracy. On behalf of Emgage, Michigan, I am so proud to announce our partnership with the Michigan secretary of state to get out the vote. We are committed to turning out Michigan Muslims, and we are anticipating an unprecedented large number of voters thanks to the Secretary Benson’s work to inform voters how to vote safely in their homes. Our job at Emgage is also to educate the community on the process and their rights. We are encouraging all voters who are vulnerable to COVID-19 to vote in the safety of their homes.

If voters wish to vote in person, we are encouraging them to vote early in their city clerk office starting on September 24th. We are working hard to make sure every vote is counted, but we need your help. As Secretary Benson mentioned, Michigan citizens can support our elections by serving as election workers. We are specifically looking for poll workers who are multilingual to serve our minority communities. PPE is also provided to all poll workers and all polls are kept clean to keep voters and the workers safe. Please sign up at michigan.gov/democracymvp to empower all voters this November. Thank you so much for your time and let’s get out the vote early and on Tuesday, November 3rd. Thank you.

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