From defining terms to checking your voter registration information, this guide helps every Michigander cast their ballot.
LANSING, MI — Michiganders are more interested in mail-in voting than ever before.
Given the high number of Americans who have either relocated during the COVID-19 pandemic or are unsure of where they’ll be living on Election Day, absentee ballots will undoubtedly be a popular voting option. In fact, an analysis by The New York Times stated that experts are predicting a whopping 80 million mail-in ballots this year, which is more than double the number of returned ballots during the 2016 election. Michiganders already broke mail-in voting records with this year’s primary election in August.
If you’re unsure of the rules of absentee voting in Michigan, or still deciding if it’s the best voting route for you, read our comprehensive guide to absentee ballots below.
What Is the Definition of an Absentee Ballot?
An absentee ballot is a ballot used to cast an absentee vote, usually by mail, for registered voters in Michigan who are unable to be physically present at a polling place on Election Day. The practice is not unique to Michigan, as all states have some form of absentee ballots.
How Do I Request an Absentee Ballot?
Due to COVID-19, some states are automatically sending an absentee ballot to all registered voters. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn recently defended her decision in court to mail all registered Michigan voters absentee-ballot applications. Other states like Colorado and Oregon are doing the same.
If you’re registered to vote in other states, check your local election official website or vote.org for information on how to request an absentee ballot. You can typically do so both online and by mail. Note that two-thirds of the states allow registered voters to vote absentee without offering an excuse, while the remaining one-third of the states require an excuse as to why absentee voting is necessary.
How Do Absentee Ballots Work?
Once registered to vote, Michigan voters must request an absentee ballot from the Secretary of State’s Office if they wish to vote-by-mail. All registered voters in Michigan are eligible to vote by mail.
If the absentee ballot application is approved, voters will then receive their ballot in the mail. After filling out the ballot based on its instructions, voters can either mail in the ballot or drop it off at a designated site such as an early voting poll center.
When Do I Have to Request My Absentee Ballots?
The deadline to request an absentee ballot varies by state. In Michigan, voters have until the 5 p.m. the Friday before Election Day to request an absentee ballot be mailed to them. This year, that will be Friday, October 30.
Keep in mind that you’ll want to allow plenty of time for your local Michigan clerk to accept your application, to receive your ballot in the mail, and return it by whatever method you choose.
Are Absentee Ballots the Same as Voting By Mail?
While the terms absentee ballots and voting by mail (also called mail-in ballots) are often used interchangeably, there are differences between the two. Essentially, an absentee ballot is a ballot filled out by a voter who cannot physically make it to a voting location on Election Day.
Voting by mail and mail-in ballots, meanwhile, are a broader term to describe ballots sent through the mail, including in all-mail voting states and some forms of absentee voting.
No matter the term you choose to use, all Michigan registered voters are eligible to vote absentee without providing justification.
Should I Be Concerned About Delays at the USPS?
Short answer: No. The USPS can handle an exorbitant number of mail, and this year the number of mail being handled is substantially lower due to the pandemic. According to the New York Times, even if every person voted by mail, it would not result in as much additional mail volume as a typical holiday season.
Still, it’s best for Michiganders to apply for absentee voting as early as possible so that you can return the ballot without any worry that it might not get counted in time.
When Are Absentee Ballots Counted?
Absentee ballots are counted at varying times according to local laws, though most absentee counting can only begin on Election Day.
In Michigan, ballots are stored until Election Day when the count can legally begin. Counting can last several days past Election Day, but local clerks cannot accept ballots received after polls close on Election Day—including ballots received late through the USPS.