What Michigan Voters Need to Know Before Election Day

Whether you’re voting by mail or in person, make sure your vote counts by following this advice from Michigan Department of State official Tracy Wimmer.

There is a lot of uncertainty about the process of voting leading up to the Nov. 3 election. Huge expected turnout, major changes to Michigan voting laws, doubts about mail service, and a global pandemic are all changing the way people are voting in 2020.

“We’ve been working to make sure people understand that this is an unprecedented election, not just because we’re in a pandemic, but also the volume of turnout we’re already seeing.” — Tracy Wimmer, Director of Media Relations for the Michigan Department of State

WDET’s Jake Neher spoke with Tracy Wimmer, director of media relations for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the Michigan Department of State, about what voters need to know between now and the election to make sure their ballots are counted.

Listen: Michigan Department of State spokesperson Tracy Wimmer answers questions about voting in 2020

You can register to vote between now and Election Day, but you have to do it in person.

As of October 20th, voters can no longer register to vote online or by mail for the November election. But you can still register to vote in person at your clerk’s office between now through 8 p.m. on Election Day.

“And so if you have any questions about your registration, you want to double check and make sure your information is correct, you can either check your information, online at michigan.gov/vote, or you can go in person to your local clerk,” says Wimmer.

If you’re voting absentee, get your ballot and return it in person or via drop box ASAP

“If you haven’t requested your ballot do so immediately,” says Wimmer. 

“We’ve been trying to tell people to make sure that they get the request in early and that they returned their ballot early. And at this point, as close as we are to the election, we’re also recommending that people return their ballots, either via drop box or in person to their local clerk, just because we’re so close. But you know, we don’t know what’s going to happen with the mail. It’s better to not risk it and just return it.”

You can still vote in person like normal, but please wear a mask.

“We’ve worked really hard this year to make sure that all of the options that voters already had for how they could cast their ballots remained options for them, and that they were all safe and secure,” says Wimmer. “So anyone who wants to vote in person absolutely can. Every jurisdiction was provided PPE by our department ahead of the statewide primary, and they’ll still have it for this one. They were provided supplies and funding to ensure social distancing happen. And you know, because people are choosing to vote in so many different ways and taking advantage of all the different options that we have this year, that’s actually spreading out the number of voters we have in a way that makes all of those options safer. So you know, we saw on August 4, at the state my primary that polling places were actually largely pretty empty. They were pretty calm, clean, there were no lines. So voters can expect that they should be able to get in and out fairly quickly, that they will see social distancing, they will see election workers wearing masks.”

“And while masks are not required by voters, we are strongly encouraging them to wear them,” she continues.

Here’s why you might want to spoil or surrender your absentee ballot and how to do that:

Wimmer says there are two big reasons people end up surrendering or spoiling their absentee ballots so that they can cast a new one. The first is that you may decide that you’d rather vote in person at your polling location on Election Day.

“All you have to do in that regard is just bring your absentee ballot with you to the polling location, surrender it there, you’ll sign an affidavit that triggers the cancellation of absentee ballot, and instead you’ll be able to vote in person,” says Wimmer.

The other reason is that you might have made a mistake on your ballot or you want to change something after filling it out.

“In that case, you can either make the request in writing to spoil your ballot to your clerk, which must be received by 5 p.m. the Friday before the election, so October 30. Or you can make the request in person by 10 a.m. the day before the election — Monday, November 2,” she says.

There’s no way to know if your vote didn’t count due to an error you made when filling out the ballot.

“That’s also why we emphasize that you follow the directions as closely as possible,” says Wimmer. “And if you have any questions, especially if it’s an absentee ballot, you can always fill it out and return it in person in your clerk’s office right then. And, you know, while ballot counting does not begin until Election Day — which obviously would not reveal some of those specific type of errors — until then, generally speaking, if you’re in person there, you’re able to ask questions, you’re able to double check that you did everything right.”

“But again, the biggest thing is there’s very explicit instructions included with the absentee ballots for how you should fill out the bubbles, the kind of ink that you should use, things like that. And so it’s really important to read those instructions really thoroughly.”

We probably won’t have many results on Election Day — and that’s OK.

“We’ve been working to make sure people understand that this is an unprecedented election, not just because we’re in a pandemic, but also the volume of turnout we’re already seeing,” says Wimmer. “We’ve had well over one million ballots already returned. And the volume of absentee ballots that we’ve had cast to accurately and securely processed them is going to take time. And that means we’re not going to have results on election night.”

Wimmer says that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with the process. In fact, she says that means that the process is working.

“It means that all of the people we have working to tabulate these ballots across the state are taking their time they’re following the proper procedures. And so, people are obviously used to seeing results on election night. And that’s not going to happen in this case. And that’s perfectly fine.

“At this point, we’re trying to set the expectation that results will be available by Friday at the latest. We’re hoping sooner. But you know, we want to emphasize patience, and we want to make sure people understand that delay is precisely because the process is working, and we’re making sure that every valid vote is being counted.”

Related Content:

Voting Errors a Bigger Risk Than Voter Fraud in Michigan

Returning Your Absentee Ballot? Officials Say Drop It Off, Don’t Mail It.

Avoid This Mistake That Got 2,000 Ballots Thrown Out In August

Everything You Need to Know to Vote in 2020

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  • Detroit Today
    Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.
  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.