Election Matters

October 11, 2020

While a new law gives election clerks ten additional hours to process absentee ballots, the ballots will still be counted on election night and total unofficial results will not likely be available until later in the week.

Older voters are reliable sources of information to younger voters, so help them through the process. A lot has changed about voting since we adopted Proposal 3 in 2018 and with changes due to COVID-19.

The best election information can be found at the Secretary of State’s website www.michigan.gov/vote or from your local city or township clerk. There are many third-party voting information sources but the Secretary of State website is the trusted source for checking your voter registration, finding your clerk’s office and hours, finding your polling place, taking a look at your ballot, checking the status of your absentee ballot, and more.

Voter Registration — Voter registration or change of voting address was available online at www.michigan.gov/vote through October 19, 2020. On and after October 20, 2020, and on Election Day, voter registration is only available in person at your city or township clerk’s office or a Secretary of State office. Verify office hours first. Proof of residency must be provided. Proof of residency documents include a driver’s license with the correct address, State ID, current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, government check, or other government document. Documents must have name and current address. Digital copies are acceptable.

If you’ve moved since you last registered to vote, you need to change your voter registration to your new address — whether you’ve moved in-town, in-state, or out-of-state. If you’ve just recently moved within your city or township, you may vote one last time at your old precinct polling place, but you will need to fill out the change of address form at the polling place for future voting.

NEW! Straight Ticket — The option of voting “straight party” for one party was assured in the 2018 law changes. But voters can vote a straight party ticket and still vote for some candidates belonging to different political parties throughout the ballot.

Marking a Ballot — Shade in the oval or box provided on the ballot for each race with a dark blue or black pen (not a magic marker because it could bleed through the paper). Sometimes people put lines and draw X’s in the ovals instead of shading the ovals or boxes, or they make stray marks on the ballot, all of which can mean their ballots are rejected.

Other times, individuals vote for too many people when they can vote for more than one candidate for an office (like school board). This also invalidates their choices for that specific selection.

Remember to turn the ballot over to continue voting on the back side of the ballot.

NEW! Early Voting — Michigan law now requires city or township clerk’s offices to provide eight hours of in-person early absentee voting hours the weekend before the election. Some clerks provide more than the minimum time for early voting hours including weeknight hours. Find your jurisdiction’s early voting hours at www.michigan.gov/vote or call your clerk’s office if you want to vote in person before November 3. Wear a mask and observe social distancing guides.

Voting In Person — Your polling place is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on November 3. Find your polling place at www.michigan.gov/vote. Some have changed due to COVID-19. If you are in line at 8 p.m., you have a right to wait in line to vote.

ID Requirement — Michigan’s voter identification requirement asks voters to present up-to-date and accurate photo identification in order to cast their ballot or, if they do not have it, to sign an affidavit. Acceptable forms of photo ID include:

  • Michigan driver’s license or state identification card
  • Driver’s license or state ID card issued by another state
  • A valid U.S. passport
  • Federal or state government-issued photo identification
  • Military ID with photo
  • Student ID card
  • Tribal identification card with photo.

NEW! Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) — Poll workers have been provided PPE and polling places and equipment will be sanitized periodically to provide a safe voting environment. Wearing a mask is voluntary for voters. Observe social distancing guidelines.

NEW! Safety — The Secretary of State will be issuing guidance concerning safety of voters and poll workers. Every polling place has space designated for members of the public to observe quietly the voting process but observers may not interact with voters or disrupt the voting process. Poll challengers designated by political parties may observe activities near the poll books (laptops) but may not speak to voters.

Electioneering and signs are not permitted within 100 feet of the entry to the polling place building. Voters cannot wear election-related buttons, clothing, or other gear inside the polling place. Voters can take a picture of their ballot in the voting booth. For the privacy and security of neighboring voters, voters are prohibited from holding their ballot up for a selfie photo.

Absentee Voting — Michigan’s 2018 law permits every registered voter to vote by absentee ballot from home, no excuse needed. First-time absentee voters need to learn the process and begin early. Don’t delay!

Absentee ballots were made available and absentee ballot early voting began on September 24. If you have put yourself on the permanent absentee ballot application list with your city or township clerk, you should have received your ballot sometime on or after September 24. If you requested a ballot but haven’t received it, call your clerk’s office immediately.

If you haven’t requested an absentee ballot yet, you can do so online and save a phone call or stamp at www.michigan.gov/vote. Otherwise, call your city or township clerk for an application for an absentee ballot to be sent to you or visit your clerk and fill out the application and acquire the ballot immediately.

The form provides an option for the ballot to be sent to an address other than the voter registration address, a feature particularly handy for snowbirds and college students.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail is 5 p.m., Friday, October 30, 2020; however, it is advised that voters submit their absentee ballot application much earlier than this date to avoid the potential for mailing delays.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot in person at your clerk’s office is 4 p.m. the day before the election.

Voters requesting to vote by absentee ballot from home, by mail, or in person must provide their signature or personal identification information at the time of submitting their application for an absentee ballot which, once received, is verified against the voter’s signature and information on record in the Qualified Voter File. If the signatures do not exactly match, the application or ballot may not be tabulated.

Returning the Ballot — In Michigan, voters have until 8 p.m. on Election Day to return a mail-in ballot. To be counted, it needs to arrive by mail on Election Day, not just be postmarked by then. Legislative proposals and lawsuits to extend this time are ongoing.

A friend who does not live with the voter or neighbor may no longer return another person’s absentee ballot. But a friend or neighbor can offer a ride to the voter or voter’s family member/caretaker to deliver the absentee ballot.

The Michigan SOS is advising voters to deliver absentee ballots to their clerk or clerk’s drop box. If you mail your absentee ballot and postage is not provided, put two stamps on it and mail by October 20, two weeks before Election Day.

Signature — Remember to sign the back side of your absentee ballot envelope. Your clerk accesses the Qualified Voter File for the signature you used to apply for a driver’s license, the signature you used to register to vote, and the signature you used on your application for an absentee ballot. If your signature has changed for any reason, check with your clerk’s office to make sure the signature you commonly use now is the one your clerk has on file.

NEW! Pre-Election Day Notification — Just signed into law on October 6, Senate Bill (SB) 757 (now Public Act 177 of 2020) requires clerks to notify voters of any reason their absentee ballot application or absentee ballot return envelope was rejected because the signature on the application or envelope did not agree sufficiently with the signature in the Qualified Voter File, or because the voter failed to sign the application or envelope. The clerk would have to notify the voter within 48 hours or before 8 p.m. the day before Election Day, whichever occurred first. The notification could take place by mail, phone, or e-mail.

NEW! Ballot Spoilage — SB 757 would also amend the timeline for ballot spoilage. Currently, if a voter submits an absentee ballot, he or she has until 4 p.m. on the day before an election to appear in person at the city or township clerk’s office to submit a request that the original absentee ballot be spoiled and vote a new ballot. To allow for the pre-processing of absentee ballots, the bill would change the deadline to 10 a.m. on the day before the election.

Additionally, for a voter who has lost his or her absentee ballot or who has not received the absentee ballot in the mail, the current deadline to submit a written request to spoil the initial ballot and provide or mail a new absentee ballot is 2 p.m. on the Saturday before the election. The new law changes that deadline to 5 p.m. on the Friday before the election.

NEW! Counting the Ballots — SB 757 also amends current Michigan Election Law to allow clerks in cities or townships with a population of at least 25,000 to perform certain absent voter ballot pre-processing activities prior to Election Day as long as they give notice of the action to the Secretary of State at least 20 days before Election Day. SB 757 also allows election inspectors on absent voter counting boards in cities or townships to work shifts. The Department of State will be required to post any notices on its websites and the clerk will have to post the notice on the city or township website. The provision is only applicable for the November 3, 2020, general election.

NEW! Election Security — The Bureau of Elections has a hotline for voters, poll workers, and local officials with questions or concerns at (517) 335-3234. More information is also available online at Michigan.gov/ElectionSecurity. The state is also partnering with 866-OUR-VOTE to provide interested voters with information on voting rights and voter protection resources.

Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at 1200 Prescott Drive, East Lansing, MI 48823-2446; Phone 517-351-7292; E-mail michigansera@comcast.net.

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