Nikki Schueller inserts her absentee voter ballot into a drop box in Troy, Mich., Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Nikki Schueller inserts her absentee voter ballot into a drop box in Troy, Mich., Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

MICHIGAN—All eyes are on Michigan this November as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer faces a challenge from anti-abortion Republican Tudor Dixon, and a host of other Trump Republicans attempt to climb their way into power in hundreds of races across the state—including in the state legislature.

But before you head to the polls to decide which candidates are best to lead Michigan into a brighter future, it’s important to understand the basics of how to make your voice heard—including some key steps you need to take and deadlines you have to meet to cast your vote this year.

Let’s start at square one:

1.) Get registered. 

(If you’re already registered to vote, you can skip down to Step 2.)

Are you eligible to vote?

All US citizens can vote in the General Election, just as long as they’ve been a resident of a city or township in Michigan since at least Oct. 9—that’s 30 days before Election Day. You cannot vote if you’ve been convicted of a crime and are currently serving a sentence in jail or prison.

Are you registered to vote?

You may already be registered to vote. Find out right here

If not, you can easily register online here. Just make sure you do so by Oct. 24. 

That’s the last day to register online to vote in the General Election. After that, you’ll have to register in-person at your city or township clerk’s office—which can be through 8 p.m. Nov. 8.

What do I need to register?

Proof of your age and your Michigan residency. 

That can include a driver’s license or state ID, current utility bills or bank statements that show your address, a recent paycheck, or a document from the government that shows your address. You do not need a photo ID—if you don’t have one, you’ll be asked to sign a form.

What if I’m homeless?

If you don’t have an address, you can still register to vote. Here’s how:

  • If you have a state ID or driver’s license and access to the internet, you can register online here through Oct. 24, or in-person at your township or city clerk’s offices. If you don’t have an ID, you must register in-person sometime before Oct. 24 to get signed up.
  • You can list your address as a street corner, shelter, park, or any other place you usually stay as your address. You can also list any place that will accept mail for you–including shelters, outreach centers, advocacy groups, or individuals. You’ll need a letter from a shelter, church, or public agency that states your name and that you live in Michigan.
  • If someone tells you that you can’t register to vote or you can’t vote because you’re homeless, contact the ACLU or the Secretary of State to report it. The number for the ACLU is 313-578-6800. The number for the Secretary of State is 888-SOS-MICH.

What if I’m a student?

You have options. 

Students from Michigan who attend school in Michigan can register to vote at either their school or home addresses. Students from Michigan who attend school in another state can still register to vote at their home address in Michigan. Students who are not from Michigan but attend school in Michigan can also register to vote at their school addresses in Michigan.

2.) Vote Early.

(If you’d rather vote in-person on Election Day, you can skip down to Step 3.)

Absentee ballots will be made available to all registered voters in Michigan by Sept. 29. Although you may have been mailed an absentee ballot application, you need to submit that application in order to receive your ballot. Those will not be automatically mailed to voters. 

Absentee ballots can be requested here or by mail through Nov. 4—though election officials strongly recommended getting them requested no later than Oct. 18 to avoid mailing delays.

Be sure to select candidates in every race (on both sides of the ballot) to make your voice heard including on nonpartisan races like local school boards and Michigan Supreme Court justices. 

The last day recommended to return absentee ballots by mail to avoid delays is Oct. 24.

After that, you’ll want to return those ballots in-person at your local clerk’s office or stick them in a designated ballot drop box—which can be done anytime through 8 p.m. on Election Day. 

Only voters and members of their immediate families can drop off ballots. City and township clerks can also be contacted to come retrieve completed ballots upon request as a last resort. 

You can track the status of your absentee ballot (including whether it was received) online here

What if I messed up my ballot?

It happens. If you already turned it in, you can submit a written request to your local clerk’s office to “spoil” your absentee ballot and receive a new one—but it’s also strongly recommended you take care of your mistake before Oct. 18 to avoid any mailing delays in receiving a replacement.

Mailed requests to spoil ballots must be received by local clerks by 5 p.m. on Nov. 4—though those ballots can still be returned and spoiled in person as late as 4 p.m. on Nov. 7. 

If you haven’t turned in your absentee ballot, you can also surrender it (or sign a statement saying that the ballot was lost or destroyed) and vote in-person at the polls on Nov. 8. There is no option on Election Day to spoil an absentee ballot that has been received by the clerk. 

3.) Vote on Election Day. 

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 8. Residents can cast their votes past 8 p.m. — just as long as they’re in line by at least 8 p.m. Specific polling places can be located online

Those who have not registered to vote can still get registered and cast a ballot on Election Day. 

Voters do not need photo ID to cast their ballot—though it may speed up the process. Those without them can sign a simple form and vote. A small number of first-time voters who registered through the mail or a voter registration drive may also need to provide additional documentation—including any of the documents listed above that are needed to register. 

Residents also have a right to request an accessible voting machine and request assistance from election officials—including those who are blind, disabled, or unable to read or write. Voters can also bring anyone they wish to help them vote, just as long as that person providing assistance isn’t also their employer, or an agent of their employer or their labor union.

Can I get a ballot in my language?

Certain areas that have a large number of non-English speaking residents have election materials available in languages like Spanish and Bengali. If those ballots aren’t available in your area, you have a right to receive assistance from anyone you choose—just as long as that person isn’t your employer, an agent of your employer or acting on behalf of your labor union.

What if I run into problems on Election Day?

Residents who have issues with anyone trying to intimidate or harass them at the polls have been encouraged to tell poll workers immediately. If the poll workers are the problem, then residents should contact their city or township clerk to address the issue. If that still doesn’t work, a nonpartisan election hotline is also designed to field complaints at 866-OUR-VOTE. 

Someone may challenge your right to vote. If so, answer their questions and then vote. If you make a mistake on your ballot, you are entitled to another one if it hasn’t yet been tabulated. 

What are my other rights on Election Day?

You have a right to…

  • cast a secret ballot without anyone bothering you or telling you how to vote.
  • get a paper ballot if a voting machine is down.
  • get help voting and casting your ballot.
  • vote in peace, without interruption, interference, or intimidation. (That is a crime.)
  • ask questions about election procedures, and watch the election process. You can ask questions of the precinct board and elections officials regarding election procedures. If the person you ask doesn’t know the answer, they must direct you to someone who can help. However, if persistent questioning disrupts the execution of their duties, the board or election officials are permitted to stop responding to questions. 
  • report illegal or fraudulent activity to a local elections official or to the Secretary of State’s office. This includes anything happening in the polling place that is a crime, or if you believe someone is not who they say they are. Reporting is confidential. Call the Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE, or report to your local officials. 

You do NOT have a right to…

  • ask voters questions.
  • intimidate or harass voters.
  • falsely represent yourself as an elections official.
  • display misinformation about voter fraud.
  • spread misinformation about voter requirements.
  • brandish a firearm, even if you have a license to carry a concealed weapon.
  • carry a weapon for most reasons in most places used for elections.

What should voters be on alert for?

Here are some resources for learning about how to spot someone who wants to escalate a situation, and what to do about it: