The November election is less than a week away. The coronavirus pandemic is changing the way elections are run, putting greater emphasis on absentee ballots and other forms of early voting. Cyber threats are more sophisticated. And the nation hasn’t been this divided in recent memory.
“We’re on track for record breaking voter turnout in the midst of a pandemic, which is quite remarkable.” - Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
What happens on November 3 will set us on a path that could decide the fate of our democracy and our nation’s identity.
But there are still many questions voters have about voting and how their votes will be counted.
Listen: Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson answers questions about voting and the November election.
Jocelyn Benson is Michigan’s Secretary of State. She says the state has made great strides throughout this year to prepare for this unprecedented election.
“I’m not feeling stressed, I’m actually feeling quite confident and ready,” says Benson on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson. “We’re on track for record-breaking voter turnout in the midst of a pandemic, which is quite remarkable. And that not only shows that Michigan voters are participating, engaged, enthusiastic, but also they trust our election system.”
Detroit Today listeners had many questions for Benson, some of which you can find below. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Stephen Henderson: If you’re somebody who has not yet made a plan to cast your ballot in this in this election and you don’t think you’re going to go on Election Day, what options are still open to you, and how can people make sure that their ballots will count?
Benson: If you already have your ballot, return it by 8 p.m. on Election Day, completed, of course, in an envelope, sign your name outside that envelope and turn it into your local clerk, your city or township clerk, or at your local drop box. You can find a location of both at michigan.gov/vote.
If you don’t have a ballot, you can pick it up anytime between now and Monday (November 2) at 4 p.m., and you can get your ballot from your city or township clerk, or a satellite office. Or you can return it by 8 p.m. on Election Day, either through that same clerk’s office or at a local drop box.
Your final option is to vote in person on election day, at your local precinct… And the caveat is voter registration.
We want you to make a plan, we want you to plan to vote. But if you decide at 4 p.m. on election day that you want to vote and you haven’t yet registered, you can actually still do that you can go to your local clerk’s office, your city or township clerk’s office, register to vote, get your ballot and return it right there.
The last caveat is that if you do vote early, we want you to track your ballot and confirm it’s been received. You can do that at michigan.gov/vote.
Detroit Today Listener, Bernadette: I requested an absentee ballot a month ago. After two weeks, I contacted the city clerk’s office and was told that it would go out in the mail. Now, it’s nearing a month. I don’t have my absentee ballot, so I’ve decided that I’m going to go to the polls. How do I make sure that I am not listed as an absentee voter, and somehow my vote is invalidated?
Benson: If you show up on Election Day, all that will be noted in your file is that you requested a ballot and one was sent to you, but if you haven’t returned it and it hasn’t been validated — and you can confirm that at michigan.gov/vote — you will be able to vote right then and there in person at your precinct on Election Day.
I’ll also mention 866-OUR-VOTE — a national nonpartisan Voter Protection hotline. If on Election Day you were to show up and there was some sort of snafu or any indication or challenge to your voting, you can call that number and you’ll have attorneys on hand to walk you through what you do next. We’re in touch with them as well, so they can call our office directly if there’s something that we need to correct or get involved with.
I recommend contacting your city or township clerk just to confirm with them that you have not received your ballot. You also have the option to go to their office and get a ballot between now and Monday (Nov. 2) if you’re able to or if you want to, and then return it right there.
Detroit Today Listener, Heather: Do you have to drop your ballot in your city’s drop box? Or can it be any city’s drop box?
Benson: You have to use your local drop box. That’s why we encourage people to go to michigan.gov/vote to enter your voter information and get your local drop box information. If you live in Ferndale, and you drop it in a Detroit drop box, it won’t count. And that’s also why we encourage you to track your ballot.
Stephen Henderson: At least one federal cybersecurity official says that a ransomware attack directed at local clerk’s offices during the election is his number one fear. React to that assessment and talk about what we’re doing here in Michigan to prevent it?
Benson: We’re working closely with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security and all federal authorities to ensure once anything hits any state, we all know about it, and can adjust if necessary.
Secondly, we have spent the past year upgrading our local connections, websites and the like, [and have been] tracking all ransomware attacks in other states that may have occurred outside of election systems but in state government just to have awareness and a plan in place to respond to that.
The good thing about Michigan is that we have 1,520 different township and city jurisdictions where elections are managed at the local level. So there’s also limited impact compared to other states that have a more centralized system.
In addition to that kind of limited impact, we have security protocols in place to catch ransomware. When it occurs we also need to train all of our employees who access any system to know the signs just like we all know the signs and the importance of double authentication, for example, or just not clicking on attachments if they come from someone you don’t know.
It’s those basic cybersecurity health protocols that we train our officials on. So I’ll say I feel good about where we’re at. But you know, you’ll also always have to allow for the potential for human error. If someone accidentally clicks on something and it gets into the system, we have to be able to catch up quickly. And that’s where working with our federal law enforcement authorities is so critical.