Michigan: How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

What you need to know, including key deadlines, registration details, and how to vote by mail.

Grace Han/Thrillist
Grace Han/Thrillist

The 2020 General Election on November 3 is just around the corner, and if you vote in Michigan, so are the important deadlines you'll need to meet to make sure your vote counts. But don't fret. Take some time right now to make a plan. Casting your ballot might look a little different this time around due to the pandemic, so it would behoove you to take a little extra time to ensure you're all set.

Michigan offers a couple of options for voting. Yes, you can go to your polling location and vote in person on Election Day, but if you're worried about coronavirus, the state has issued guidance that allows you to vote absentee and send your ballot in the mail. In 2018, Michigan passed no-reason absentee voting for all residents (which definitely comes in handy during a pandemic). If you choose this route, it's crucial to keep in mind how long it might take for your ballot to arrive in your mailbox after you request it and how long it'll take to get back to election officials after you've completed it and sent it. You don't want to miss the deadline and have your ballot thrown out. As for the voting in person route, there are easy things you can do to keep yourself safe while navigating your local polling place. Here's what you need to know.

What’s the deadline to register to vote in Michigan?

If you're registering to vote online or by mail, you need to do so by October 19. Michigan also allows you to register to vote in person at your local clerk's office as late as on Election Day, but considering how easy it is to register online or via mail, why would you want to do that? 

How to register to vote in Michigan

The safest and fastest way to register is online. You’ll need a valid driver’s license or state ID. If lieu of those, you can also bring a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or other government document as proof of residency. As mentioned above, there are a few ways you can do it before the October 19 deadline. 

Can I vote early? When does early voting start in Michigan?

Yes, but it's limited to voters who are casting absentee ballots. Thankfully, anyone who's registered to vote can cast an absentee ballot in Michigan. You can do the whole process -- apply for an absentee ballot, receive your ballot, vote your ballot, and return your ballot -- by mail, or you can do it in person at your local clerk's office. From September 24 through November 2, you can even apply for an absentee ballot at a clerk's office and vote right there on the spot. 

In other words, you just have to clear the absentee ballot application hurdle in order to vote early.

Can I vote by mail?

Michigan allows registered voters to vote by mail via the aforementioned absentee ballot process. You can request an absentee ballot by submitting an online application form until October 30 at 5pm. Of course, waiting until just a few days before the election is not a good idea, though. You'll want to have your absentee ballot request submitted well before the deadline -- the state recommends doing so no later than October 19 -- to ensure there's enough time for you to receive your ballot, fill it out, and get it back to the clerk. If you want, you can also request an absentee ballot by calling your local clerk and asking them to mail an application form to you, by printing the application form and mailing it in, or by visiting your local clerk in person (up until 4pm the day before the election).

Tip: You can take a picture of your absentee ballot request form and email it directly to your clerk to expedite the process/ensure it doesn't get lost in the mail.

How to vote by mail in Michigan

Once you receive your absentee ballot -- hopefully soon after you submitted your application -- it's smooth sailing from there. Complete your ballot by selecting that candidates of your choice, then follow the instructions to secure your ballot in the accompanying envelopes. Note that your signature must match the one on file or your vote will not be counted.

And, of course, you need to get your completed absentee ballot back to your local clerk by the deadline, which is 8pm on Election Day, November 3. If you're mailing it back to your clerk, send it as soon as possible. You don't want it to arrive late because you procrastinated. You can also drop off your absentee ballot at your clerk's office or drop box if that's easier or provides more peace of mind.

Is there a way to track my absentee ballot? How can I make sure it’s counted?

You can check the status of your ballot on the Michigan Secretary of State's voter information website

Carefully follow the directions on your absentee ballot. It's also always a good idea to avoid ripping or otherwise damaging your voting materials. You don't want your absentee ballot to be discarded on some sort of technicality. 

Finally, if you're concerned about your absentee ballot not arriving via USPS in time to be counted, you can hand deliver it to your local clerk to be absolutely sure.

How can I stay safe while voting in person?

Before we get into the details, you should know that in-person voting will take place at every Michigan jurisdiction from 7am to 8pm on November 3, according to the Secretary of State's Election Day web page.

While voting by absentee ballot in the mail is likely the safest way to participate in this election amid the pandemic, there are simple ways you can protect yourself and others while at your polling place. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has even issued a bunch of safety recommendations for you to consider before heading out to vote.

Here's a rundown of what the CDC recommends, per its official election guidance page:

  • Wear a mask. 
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
  • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again. 
  • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them with cleaners and disinfectant products. This is where hand sanitizer comes in again. Use it right after you touch the voting equipment, and if you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried first. 
  • Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is.
  • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place.
  • Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it). 
  • If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location. 

Additional voting resources

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