And so it begins.
The first absentee ballots for the November election should start arriving in mailboxes any day. For weeks now, you’ve likely been getting blank application forms for such ballots, urging you to take advantage of your new freedom to vote this way. Campaigns, parties and various interest groups, as well as the Secretary of State's office, have blanketed Michigan, a crucial swing state, with ballot request applications. And in a pandemic election year, maybe this is the safest way for you to vote this season.
As stories like this sometimes start: So you’re among the 2.4 million Michiganians (so far) intending to vote absentee! What do you need to know?
A few things. Let’s take it step by step.
I just got my absentee ballot. What do I do now?
While this may seem duh-level obvious, start with opening the outer envelope. Do it carefully; there are important papers inside, along with instructions you must follow to the letter, so this isn’t the time to play ballot tug-of-war with your German shepherd.
Inside you’ll find instructions “appropriate for the election being held;” instructions for you, the voter; a return envelope; a secrecy envelope; and the holy of holies, the actual ballot.
Vote, silly. You can lay it aside if you like, do research on the judicial races you forgot about, your local school board, whatever. Or you can lay it down on a clean surface, uncap your pen and start filling in bubbles.
But read the instructions first, not only on the enclosed sheets but on the ballot itself. If a race says “vote for no more than three,” don’t vote for four. Read, vote, put the cap back on your pen.
Now a banquet of options spreads itself before you. The one you choose depends on your level of comfort with the U.S. Post Office and general paranoia. First, put your ballot in the secrecy sleeve, and then in the return envelope. Sign the return envelope, not just anywhere, but in the space provided. This is very important. They won’t count your vote if the ballot is unsigned.
As to those options:
You can trust the post office and drop your ballot in the mail. And bless your heart for your faith in our American institutions.
You can take your ballot to a designated drop box. This is not for mail or any other purpose than to accept absentee ballots. Google for the one nearest you. If you live in a suburb, it’s likely at city hall.
You can march it into your local city clerk's office and submit it in person. Slapping it down on the counter can be very satisfying,
Whatever you choose, your next step should be to memorize a very simple URL: michigan.gov/vote.
This takes you to the state’s voter information center, where you can find a wealth of information about your franchise. It will tell you whether your ballot was accepted – give it a couple days.
Actually, this page is full of useful information, including your registration status, your sample ballot, where you need to vote (if you intend to do so in person) and more.
OK, I got the ballot, laid it aside, forgot to fill it out and now it’s Election Day. What do I do?
Relax. It’s not too late to drop off your ballot – you have until the polls close. If you carry it into a polling place and try to drop it there, they can’t accept it. But! You can exchange it for a regular ballot, go to the booth, re-fill your bubbles and vote the old-fashioned way. You’ll have to turn in your absentee ballot, though, and it’ll be cancelled.
I filled out my ballot, dropped it off and changed my mind about the race for dogcatcher. Is it too late for me?
Not at all. Absentee ballots can be “spoiled,” i.e. scratched for a do-over. You have to submit a written request with the city clerk, or you can do it in person. But you have to do so by 4 p.m. the day before the election.
Wait, this sounds so easy. Is it too late to get in on it?
Of course not. The passage of Proposal 3 in 2018 made voting easier for everyone. You have until October 19 to register online or by mail, but you can register in person on Election Day, but not, we hasten to add, at any old polling place. You must do so at your city clerk’s office or at a satellite center, some of which haven’t been designated yet. In Detroit, check the web page for the Department of Elections.
But don’t wait. The earlier you go, the easier you’ll rest as we count down the days until Nov. 3.