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Voting by mail in Michigan for 2020 General Election: What to know

All Michigan voters can request absent voter ballots for the Nov. 3 election -- here’s how it works

Voting by mail in Michigan for General Election on November 3, 2020
Voting by mail in Michigan for General Election on November 3, 2020

As the national battle against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues across the country, many Americans are choosing to vote by mail in the upcoming presidential election in November.

This election cycle, Michigan voters have the option to vote by mail without needing an excuse to do so -- thanks to new voting procedures established in 2018.

A record number of Michigan voters opted to vote by mail for both the May and August elections this year, and an even larger number is expected to vote by mail this November. By law, Michigan clerks must begin mailing requested absent voter ballots to voters 40 days before the election -- which is September 24.

Polling precincts are expected to be open for in-person voting on November 3 -- but, if you’ve decided to give the vote-by-mail system a try, here’s everything you need to know about voting in the 2020 General Election using a Michigan absent voter ballot.

Note: For all intents and purposes, there is no difference between the terms “mail-in voting” or voting “absentee.” The state will provide “absent voter ballots” to residents who have requested to vote absentee, or “by mail.”

How to request an absent voter ballot in Michigan

All registered Michigan voters now have the option to vote by mail using absent voter ballots.

The state of Michigan mailed absentee voting applications to all registered Michigan voters in May for this year’s August and November elections. Michigan voters who have already applied to receive an absent voter ballot for the presidential election can begin receiving their ballot up to 40 days prior to Election Day -- which is September 24.

There is still plenty of time for Michigan voters to request a mail-in ballot for the General Election on November 3, if you haven’t already.

You can apply to receive an absent voter ballot on the state’s website right here. Requests for Michigan absent voter ballots must be received by your local clerk’s office no later than 5 p.m. on the Friday before the election -- which would October 30 for the November 3 election.

Michigan voters registered at their current address can request an absent voter ballot in person at their local clerk’s office anytime up to 4 p.m. on the day before Election Day -- which is November 2.

Michigan also allows same-day voter registration -- meaning you can register to vote on the day of the election. Michigan residents registering to vote or updating their current address at their local clerk’s office on November 3 can also request an absent voter ballot at that time.

Note: Michigan absent voter ballots requested in person on November 2-3 will be required to be filled out immediately while in the clerk’s office on the day of your visit.

To check on the status of an absent voter ballot application, registered Michigan voters are encouraged to contact their city or township clerk’s office directly.

Filling out a Michigan absent voter ballot for the 2020 General Election

Once you receive your absent voter ballot in the mail, it simply needs to be filled out following the written instructions attached and returned before the deadline.

It’s important to be cautious and follow directions precisely when filling out a Michigan absent voter ballot to ensure it is counted on Election Day.

Making a mistake on your absent voter ballot would require you to obtain a new one and start over -- which can pose issues the closer it gets to Election Day.

Inside of your official Michigan absent voter ballot envelope is a brightly-colored “secrecy sleeve” containing your ballot. Directions for filling out the ballot are included on the front of the sleeve.

Here are the directions for filling out your Michigan absent voter ballot for the General Election, as listed on the secrecy sleeve:

  • TO VOTE: Completely darken the oval opposite each choice as shown.
  • IMPORTANT: To mark your ballot, use only a black or blue ink pen. Do not use any other ink color.
  • PARTISAN SECTION: There may be multiple party sections on the ballot. Select the party section of your choice.
    • Note: You can “split” your ticket when voting in the November General Election. A voter participating in a November General Election who wishes to cast a “split” ticket can vote for individual candidates of his or her choice under any party.
  • DO NOT vote for more candidates than indicated under each office title.
  • WRITE-IN CANDIDATES: To vote for a candidate whose name is not printed on the ballot, write or place the name of that candidate in the blank space provided and completely darken the voting target area. Do not cast a write-in vote for a candidate whose name is already printed on the ballot for that office.
  • CHECK BOTH SIDES OF BALLOT: The ballot may have two sides. Be certain to check the reverse side of the ballot.
  • WHEN YOU HAVE COMPLETED VOTING: Place the ballot in the secrecy sleeve so that votes cannot be seen and the numbered stub is visible.
  • NOTE: If you make a mistake, return your ballot to the election official and obtain a new ballot. Do not attempt to erase or correct any marks made in error.

A stub is located at the top of the ballot containing numerical information needed by the clerk’s office to identify your ballot. If the stub detaches from your absent voter ballot while you are filling it out, you must include the stub with your ballot when it is returned.

Returning your completed Michigan absent voter ballot

Completed absent voter ballots for the 2020 General Election must be received by your local clerk’s office by 8 p.m. on November 3.

Packaging your absent voter ballot once it’s completed

Once you’ve filled out your Michigan absent voter ballot for the 2020 General Election, place it inside of the brightly-colored secrecy sleeve that it was initially presented in. This sleeve protects your votes from being read by others.

Next, be sure to sign and date the return envelope that was provided with your absent voter ballot. All Michigan voters are required to sign the back of the envelope or the ballot will be rejected and the vote will not be counted.

For those who are disabled or required assistance to fill out their absent voter ballot, a signature is required from the person who assisted. This signature should be placed on the section of the back of the envelope that says “To be completed only if voter is assisted in voting by another person.”

Once your Michigan absent voter ballot is packaged, it needs to be returned to your local clerk’s office before the 8 p.m. deadline on November 3 or it will not be counted.

To return your absent voter ballot on time, you have two options:

Return your absent voter ballot by mail

You can return your completed absent voter ballot by mailing it to your local clerk’s office.

To ensure your ballot is received by the 8 p.m. deadline on November 3, we recommend mailing out your completed ballot at least two weeks before the deadline -- which would be October 20.

Recent delays and funding shortages with the U.S. Postal Service have raised concerns over whether or not mail-in ballots will be returned to clerks’ offices on time for the November election. For this reason, we are recommending mailing in your completed absent voter ballot as soon as possible ahead of Election Day.

You may begin receiving your absent voter ballot as soon as September 24.

Postage will be required to return your Michigan absent voter ballot by mail.

Return your absent voter ballot in person

You can also return your completed absent voter ballot by delivering it to your local clerk’s office before the 8 p.m. deadline on November 3. Some offices are even offering ballot “drop boxes” to make returning your ballot easier.

Officials are encouraging voters to hand deliver their completed ballot, as voters can guarantee that their ballot will be received on time and their vote will be counted in the election.

No postage is required to return your Michigan absent voter ballot in person.

Remember: The back of the envelope containing the completed absent voter ballot must be signed by the voter or it will not be counted.

Ballots can be tracked online here after they’ve been dropped off or returned by mail.

Michigan absent voter ballots can be cast beginning 40 days prior to Election Day. By law, Michigan clerks must begin mailing requested ballots to voters at least 40 days before the election -- which would be September 24.

Recap: How to make sure your absent voter ballot is not rejected in Michigan

As more people choose to vote by mail in the 2020 General Election, it is important to make sure that ballots are filled out properly so that they are not rejected during the counting process.

In the 2020 Michigan Primary Election on August 4, about 10,000 mail-in ballots were rejected primarily due to signature verification issues or late arrival. Other reasons ballots were rejected include wrong address, wrong signature (signature didn’t match), empty envelope or unconfirmed ID.

Here are a few things to remember to ensure your Michigan absent voter ballot is not rejected in the 2020 General Election:

  • Carefully follow the instructions provided when filling out the ballot at home. Making a mistake will either cause the ballot to be rejected, or force you to obtain a new ballot and start again.
  • Make sure the completed ballot is located inside of the envelope before returning it. (This seems obvious, but just trust us! Double check.)
  • Be sure to sign the back of the envelope that contains your absent voter ballot. This signature is expected to match your state-documented signature.
  • Ensure your completed absent voter ballot arrives to your local clerk before the 8 p.m. deadline on November 3. If you aren’t confident that your ballot will reach your local clerk in time through mail, you can hand deliver it before the election.

Requesting an emergency Michigan absent voter ballot

Michigan voters can request an emergency absent voter ballot if they experience an emergency that prevented them from voting in person on Election Day.

Officials say the emergency must have occurred at a time that made it impossible for the Michigan voter to apply for a regular absent voter ballot.

A request for an emergency absent voter ballot must be submitted after the deadline has passed for regular absent voter ballots -- in this case, October 30 -- but before 4 p.m. on November 3.

Emergency Michigan absent voter ballots must still be returned to the voter’s local clerk’s office by the 8 p.m. deadline on Election Day.

For more information about emergency absent voter ballots, Michigan voters are encouraged to contact their local clerk’s office directly.

Spoiling your Michigan absent voter ballot

To spoil an absent voter ballot means to change your vote after it has already been cast -- whether it’s because a candidate dropped out of the race, or for any other reason.

A Michigan voter hoping to spoil their previously-cast vote has two options to do so:

Spoil your Michigan absent voter ballot by mail

To spoil your Michigan absent voter ballot by mail, you must send a letter to your local clerk’s office stating as such. The voter must also identify if they require a new absent voter ballot or plan to vote in person at their polling precinct. A signature is also required.

The letter must be received by your local clerk’s office by 2 p.m. on the Saturday before Election Day -- which would be October 31.

Spoil your Michigan absent voter ballot in person

To spoil your Michigan absent voter ballot in person, visit your local clerk’s office anytime before 4 p.m. on the Monday before Election Day -- which would be November 2.

The voter can then decide to obtain a new absent voter ballot or cast their new vote at their polling precinct on November 3.

There is no option to spoil a vote made in the 2020 General Election on Election Day.


Be prepared: 2020 General Election in Michigan: Key dates, deadlines to know


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