DETROIT — Sharletta Johnson is not one to curse, but she made an exception Thursday morning, the first day Michiganders could begin dropping off absentee ballots with local clerks.
“The last four years have been h-e-l-l,” she said, spelling out the profanity. “In every regard: in employment, in education, in the unity of the people in America. And the catalyst for all of the chaos is the president of the United States.”
That’s why Ms. Johnson, 61, a respiratory specialist, decided to get up early and stand in line with dozens of fellow Detroiters to drop off an absentee ballot at the Detroit Elections Department with a vote for Mr. Biden.
Joseph Lewis, 59, a Teamster from Detroit, brought his 18-year-old grandson Terrell Wells with him to vote for the first time.
“I wanted to be the first in line. We’ve got to vote him out,” Mr. Lewis said, referring to Mr. Trump. “It’s that simple.”
The coronavirus pandemic may be upending voting this year, and some voters have said they are wary of standing in long lines on Election Day, but that hasn’t stopped a surge of early voting and requests for absentee ballots in Michigan. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, has said the total number of votes cast could exceed five million and set a record.
In many of Detroit’s suburbs on Thursday, the lines were not as long, but the clerks were working just as hard to prepare and mail out some of the 2.4 million absentee ballots that have already been requested statewide.
“I mailed out 31,000 ballots on Monday and expect that it could get up to 40,000,” said Susan Nash, the clerk of Livonia, a suburb of Detroit that has 79,000 registered voters. “We knew coming into 2020 it was going to be busy because it’s a presidential election year. But now, with Covid and all the absentees, this presidential year is like we’re having the Super Bowl, the World Series and the Olympics all at the same time.”
Debbie Binder, West Bloomfield’s clerk, has already mailed out more than double the number of absentee ballots that she sent in all of 2016, and she expects total turnout to approach 90 percent.
“One important message we’re pushing is that we have had mail delays,” she said. “That’s a very real situation. We’re telling people if you’re going to return your ballot by mail, do it early.”
Ms. Benson has encouraged voters to take advantage of a new state law that allows anyone to vote by mail, and she expects three million absentee ballots, a record.
Meanwhile, a coalition of dozens of organizations is urging people to vote early.
“There is such eagerness to participate this year that we have to make sure people know that they can do this,” said Dave Noble, executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Michigan. “Now that there are 40 days when people can vote early, it should make it easier. And then the lines shouldn’t be as long as they usually are on Election Day.”