COVID-19 has challenged us to rethink the health and safety aspects of quite literally everything we do, including the method we’ll use to cast our ballot. A record 1.6 million voters cast absentee ballots in Michigan’s August 4thPrimary, and while COVID-19 remains a major public health concern, that trend is expected to continue into the November General Election.
If COVID-19 concerns have you thinking about voting from the comfort and safety of your own home, your advance plan can start right now. Don’t wait! Assure that you will receive and cast your absentee ballot with plenty of time to make it count!
In any election year, a common suggestion is to “make a plan to vote.” In other words, think through exactly what you need to do to cast your vote and map out a timeline and plan to get it done. If COVID-19 concerns have you thinking about voting from the comfort and safety of your own home, your advance plan can start right now. Don’t wait! Assure that you will receive and cast your absentee ballot with plenty of time to make it count!
Everyone can vote absentee in Michigan. No reason needed.
These are the essential steps for Michigan voters. Procedures in other states may vary, so check rules accordingly.
1. Make sure you are registered to vote
You can register online or at your city or township clerk’s office (find your clerk’s office here). Michigan no longer has a deadline to register, though requesting an absentee ballot by mail has a deadline (see below). You can register through Election Day by going to your clerk’s office and request an absentee ballot at the same time.
2. Apply for a ballot using any one of these methods
- Contact your city or township clerk (find your clerk’s office here) to request a ballot application. If you call the clerk’s office the application will be mailed to your home. Once you receive it, fill it out and either mail it back or return it in person. If you apply in person beginning 45 days before the election, you can request a ballot and vote absentee in the clerk’s office.
- Complete and submit the Absent Voter ballot application online (https://mvic.sos.state.mi.us). You can also choose to print the form and return it to your local clerk’s office in person or by mail.
Deadlines to request an absentee ballot:
by mail: no later than 5 pm the Friday before the election (October 30, 2020)
in person: no later than 4 pm on the day prior to the election (November 2, 2020)
3. Fill out your ballot
The clerk’s office will mail your ballot to your home after checking that the signature on your ballot application matches with your voter registration signature. Clerk’s offices will begin mailing absentee ballots 40 days before the election, so if you’ve already requested one, look for it to arrive some time after September 24th.
Complete your ballot, place it in the secrecy envelope and then in the return envelope. Don’t forget to sign the outside of the envelope! This signature is checked by the clerk’s office to assure it matches the one on file.
4. Return your ballot to the clerk’s office
Return your ballot using any one of these methods:
- Mail. Check the ballot return envelope to see if postage is needed. Many but not all localities are providing prepaid return envelopes. Get your ballot in the mail as soon as possible. Absentee ballots must be received by the clerk’s office by Election Day. A good recommendation is to mail your ballot no later than Tuesday, October 20th.
- Drop box. These look like postal boxes, though not the same color as the postal service ones, and no postage is required. They’re often found near city offices, but call the clerk’s office to find one, or click here for a list of drop boxes throughout Michigan. You must use a drop box for the area where you’re registered to vote. Ballots can be placed in a drop box anytime up to 8 pm on Election Day. Don’t hesitate to drop it off early to assure your ballot is received and ready to be counted on Election Day.
- In person. Just as using a drop box is a good idea if you’re running up against the Election Day deadline, walking into the clerk’s office to return it in person assures that it’s in the right place at the right time. It must be received by the clerk’s office no later than 8 pm on Election Day.
Only you, a family member or person residing in your household, a mail carrier, or election official is authorized to deliver your signed absent vote ballot to your clerk’s office.
Voting is more than a polling place
Going to a polling place on Election Day to vote in person is how many of us have been accustomed to voting. But it’s certainly not the only way to vote, nor is the alternative of absentee voting new or unproven. Absentee voting dates back to the U.S. Civil War, to provide a way for military personnel to vote while away from home.
All states today offer absentee ballots, with 34 having a “no excuse” policy, meaning you don’t need a reason to request one. Five states currently conduct essentially all-mail voting, and increased voter turnout and fiscal savings have been common results. In 2018, about a quarter of all votes cast were by an absentee method.
Today, no matter if you call it absentee voting, mail voting, or mail from home, this method is consistent with the CDC’s public health recommendation to minimize contact to slow the spread of COVID-19. It especially makes sense for those falling into higher-risk categories for contracting and surviving the coronavirus. And as the uptick in coronavirus cases among younger people has demonstrated, even those not in high risk populations shouldn’t be complacent about avoiding crowds and practicing healthy behaviors to keep the virus at bay.
Absentee voting is secure
A frequently asked question is whether absentee voting is safe from fraud. The answer, provided by the experience of over 250 million ballots that have been cast by mail nationwide over the past 20 years, is that the average number of election fraud convictions is about one case per state every six or seven years, or a fraud rate of 0.00006%. The processes of signature verification, ballot tracking, and high criminal penalties for election fraud have worked to keep the system honest. Issues or problems associated with a higher volume of absentee ballots likely won’t be due to fraud concerns, but the logistics of handling the larger number of ballots.
The process for absentee voting is already in place in every state. An increase in this type of voting requires resources be committed to assure the higher volume is handled efficiently and securely. For example, investments in secure drop boxes, advanced printing technology, and high-speed scanners for tabulating absentee ballots will need to take place. Some of the cost can be recovered because less polling staff, training, and purchase of polling place equipment is needed. A study of Colorado’s election-associated costs after they enacted all-mail elections in 2013 showed an average decrease of 40 percent in 46 of their 64 counties.
Polling places are essential too
Even as the appeal of absentee voting grows, a commitment to safe and secure in person voting is also needed. Some voters, for example, those needing accessibility assistance due to mobility or vision limitations, find in person voting provides the support they need to cast a secure, private vote. It’s essential that poll workers be properly trained to use accessibility equipment and respectfully assist voters with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities (ADA) and other laws require this assistance be available, but an advance call to your city or township clerk office can reassure and remind all to be prepared.
Staying safe at a polling place
The CDC’s Recommendations for Voters emphasize practicing healthy behaviors and minimizing contact in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. Their suggestions for going to a polling place include the general recommendations such as washing hands, wearing a face covering, and maintaining social distancing of at least six feet. More specifically, the CDC recommends the following to make in person voting as safe as possible:
- avoid crowds by taking advantage of early voting where offered;
- vote at non-peak times, such as mid-morning, if possible;
- check ahead that your voting location is open and accessible;
- review a sample ballot ahead of time to minimize the time you’ll need to actually vote.
Vote and stay safe!
Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and while that may sound abstract and removed from day-to-day life, think again. Voting impacts nearly every aspect of our lives, starting with the public health we are all so concerned about today. Voting is the seed from which our society grows. We must nurture it and encourage all to participate for the strongest result.
Our individual health and safety is precious. Society does not function well when threats to individual health and safety are present, and COVID-19 may well be the most vexing health challenge we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Voting in the era of COVID-19 will go on, and doing so safely and with integrity for the process will prove our resilience and capacity to make a better world even as we face a monumental challenge.
Staying safe and voting needn’t be at odds with one another. Make a plan now so both your health and your democracy prevail. Both are too precious to lose.