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Michigan absentee voting 101: Answers to frequently asked questions

Posted at 8:01 PM, Aug 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-26 08:35:00-04
(WXYZ) —

Around 1.6 million Michiganders voted absentee during the Aug. 4 Primary, and election officials expect that number could double for the General Election on Nov. 3.

Related: Michigan has more than 700 absentee ballot drop-off locations – find the one you should use

Given ongoing mail delays and concerns surrounding the United States Postal Service, Michigan's Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said federal CARES ACT money helped secure more ballot collection boxes, another option for Michiganders to return their absentee ballots on Nov. 3.

"It’s really been in anticipation of some of the challenges we’re seeing now with the Postal Service," Benson said.

Related: Check if you're registered to vote here
Related: How to register to vote in Michigan
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Related: View your sample ballot for the 2020 election

There are close to 1,000 ballot collection boxes placed around the state, Benson told Action News. You can return an absentee ballot to the collection boxes as long as they're located in your city or township. You can find a list of collection boxes here.

Absentee voting is incredibly secure no matter how you return your ballot, said Macomb County Clerk Fred Miller. You can request an absentee ballot from your local clerk's office starting 40 days prior to the Election. There are three ways to return your absentee ballot in Michigan.

  1. You can complete your absentee ballot and return it in person your local clerk's office
  2. You can mail in your absentee ballot
  3. You can return your absentee ballot to a collection box within your city or township

Michigan's election system is rather de-centralized, explained Miller. This can make for some inefficiencies, but it also adds to extra checks and balances to ensure ballots are correctly counted.

Despite no evidence to suggest that voter fraud is a widespread issue in the United States, or that voting by mail in any way increases the likelihood of voter fraud, it is still a concern for some voters.

We asked Miller how local clerks ensure ballots are only counted once.

"Michigan ballots are numbered. Once your vote is tabulated that number is on a tear-off, so that is torn off. Your vote will always remain anonymous, however up to the point where it's counted that ballot number is assigned to the voter. And so if a voter, for instance, voted absentee and then showed up on Election Day trying to vote, the qualified voter file wold immediately tell those elections inspectors or the clerk that this person has already voted," he explained.

On top of ballots being numbered, election officials also compare voter signatures on completed ballots. If they don't match, that ballot is called into question and thus not automatically counted.

Absentee ballots are counted in the same way as traditional ballots, Miller explained.

Worried about tracking your absentee ballot? Voters can do that easily through Michigan's Voter Information Center.

“You actually can track your ballot at Michigan.gov/vote. That will be available in November’s election. Right now you can go there and just confirm that if you’ve requested to vote by mail you can confirm the receipt of that request," Benson said.

“If you have voted absentee you can see you can see the date that your request was received by your local clerk, when your ballot was mailed out, when they received it," Miller said.

For people who would prefer to vote in-person on Nov. 3, election workers will be equipped with PPE and lines at local precincts will likely either be small or non-existent due to the expected surge in absentee ballots, as was the case during the Primary.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

And Michigan still needs paid election volunteers, Miller noted. He said especially for people curious about the ballot counting process, this is a way to get an inside look.

“There’s an active role for anybody to play who has any questions or just wants a front seat in our democracy," he said.

During the Primary, the bi-partisan Wayne County Board of Canvassers determined that nearly half of Detroit precincts (46 percent) were out of balance by at least one vote. While this did not affect election results, it did prompt the State Board of Canvassers to order Benson to asses what happened in Detroit's precincts in August and to make sure it's avoided come November.

"We intend to work alongside Detroit election officials to address the issues they experienced in the primary and to ensure they have the capacity and support to run a safe and secure election in November," said a spokesperson from the Michigan Department of State.

"We’re going to continue to work to recruit election workers and improve training processes to address a lot of these errors and other inaccuracies that occur," said Benson via a Zoom interview on Tuesday.

She said part of the problem is that election workers during the Primary were dealing with a surge of absentee ballots all at once and with no prep time, processing them well into the night.

"It leads to human error. And it’s one of the reasons we’ve asked the Legislature to give us more time on the front end," she said. Time to start processing absentee ballots before Nov. 3.

"No ballots are counted prior to Election Day but it’s important to enable them to at least be sorted and prepared to be counted," Benson said.

Important deadlines to keep in mind ahead of November:

Absentee voter applications must be received by your local clerk by 5 p.m. the Friday before Election Day, which is Oct. 30.

Miller also encourages voters with additional questions to contact their local clerks and to use the Michigan Voter Information Center.

How can I track my absentee ballot to make sure it's counted?

How to track an absentee ballot in Michigan

I'm worried about sending my absentee ballot in the mail, what other options do I have to make sure it's received by my local clerk?

How to return an absentee ballot in Michigan

How do election workers make sure absentee ballots delivered to a ballot collection box are only counted once?

How to drop your absentee ballot at a collection box