The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, February 07, 2020

You don't need a reason - 'tis the season to vote absentee

By The Building Tradesman



You don't want to forget to vote in Michigan's presidential primary on Tuesday, March 10? Check.

You don't want to start your day earlier or get home later by having to take time out of your schedule to go your polling place on Election Day? Check.

You want to have plenty of time to look over your local ballot while sitting at your kitchen table? Check.

Michigan's new no-reason absentee ballot law, adopted overwhelmingly by voters in 2018, checks all the boxes to make it easier for voters to cast a ballot. This year's election cycle is the first to employ the new law, and is designed to make it easy and convenient for voters to vote, and improve voter participation.

“It’s really exciting, in my view, because we need an informed and engaged electorate for our elections to work, for our democracy to be healthy, and part of that means high turnout,” said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. The 45-day window before the primary election began Jan. 25.

As a result of the new law, voter participation is expected to increase dramatically, so much so that local clerks are appealing to the Michigan Legislature to come up with a plan so that they can start counting absentee ballots - or at least ready them for processing by counting machines - prior to Election Day. The clerks, and Benson, have been warning that election workers, many of them seniors, will be fatigued and potentially make errors on Election Day by being forced to work into the wee hours of the morning to count ballots.

“This is something that we’re sounding the alarm on now, and we have the benefit of seeing other states who have gone through this, who have reached the same solution and conclusion,” Benson said. “It’s to me an easy change to make if you do so securely and carefully.”

Michigan is now one of 30 states that allow no-reason absentee voting, although in the past lying - for example, checking the box to say you would be out of town on election day when you weren't going anywhere - to get a ballot was likely one of the most broken laws in the state's history. 

The surge in absentee voting comes after Michigan voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot proposal in 2018 that expanded access to voting in several ways. The proposal:

*Allows all voters to vote by absentee ballot without having to provide an excuse. Previously, voters had to use one of six reasons to be eligible for absentee ballots — 60 or older, out of town on Election Day, being a poll worker, being unable to vote without assistance at the polls, in jail awaiting arraignment or trial; or unable to vote in person because of religious reasons.

*Allows voters to register to vote, and cast ballots, up through Election Day. Before Proposal 3, people couldn’t register to vote within the 30 days before an election.

*Restored straight-ticket voting, which allows voters to fill in one box on the ballot to vote for all Republicans or Democrats.

Here is what you need to know about obtaining an absentee ballot in Michigan, according to the Secretary of State's office. The information can be found at www.michigan.gov/sos.

All eligible and registered voters in Michigan may now request an absent voter ballot without providing a reason.

Check your voter registration at the Michigan Voter Information Center at Michigan.gov/Vote

Your request for an absent voter ballot must be in writing and can be submitted to your city or township clerk. (For assistance in obtaining the address of your city or township clerk, see  Michigan.gov/Vote) You must request an absent voter ballot by submitting the application, large print application, a letter, a postcard, or a pre-printed application form obtained from your local clerk's office. Requests may be returned by hand, via postal mail, fax, or email, as long as a signature is visible. 

Requests to have an absent voter ballot mailed to you must be received by your clerk no later than 5 p.m. the Friday before the election. If you’re already registered at your current address, you can request an absent voter ballot in person at your clerk’s office anytime up to 4 p.m. on the day prior to the election. If you’re registering to vote or updating your address by appearing at your clerk’s office on Election Day, you can request an absent voter ballot at the same time you register. If you request your AV ballot the day before the election or on Election Day, you must vote the ballot in the clerk's office. 

Once your request is received by the local clerk, your signature on the request will be checked against your voter registration record before a ballot is issued. You must be a registered voter to receive an absent voter ballot, but you can register and apply for an absent voter ballot at the same time.  Requests for absent voter ballots are processed immediately. Absent voter ballots may be issued to you at your home address or any address outside of your city or township of residence.

After receiving your absent voter ballot, you have until 8 p.m. on Election Day to complete the ballot and return it to the clerk's office.