An election is underway in Michigan. People who are registered to vote absentee or who want to cast their ballot at a satellite voting center have been able to do so since June 19.
Here’s what you need to know about the different methods of voting in Detroit.
What are satellite voting centers and absentee ballot drop boxes and why do they exist?
In 2018, Michigan residents approved Proposal 3, and one of the things that did was allow for early voting in the state. Early voting has made it so that registered voters can cast their ballots up to 45 days before an election. Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 3, but people have been able to vote since June 19. Voters can go to satellite voting centers in their local community — which is like a precinct setup before Election Day — they can mail in their absentee ballot, or they can drop it off at a specially designated secure ballot drop box.
“My hope and expectation is that the city of Detroit and cities and towns throughout our state are providing sufficient drop boxes. But we do defer to the clerks.” — Jocelyn Benson, Secretary of State
Is there anything new happening with these voting centers and drop boxes this year?
In Detroit, there are going to be fewer voting centers and ballot boxes than in the last election. Last year there were 33 total, this year there are 20. Some people are concerned about this, including Detroit City Clerk candidate Beverly Kindle-Walker. She said she’s particularly worried about Detroit City Council District 4, which includes neighborhoods like East English Village, Morningside, Jefferson Chalmers, because there’s only one voting center in the district (although there is a second one on the northern border between District 3 and 4).
“We’re concerned about voter suppression and it’s in our neighborhood, in our face, we have our clerk, suppressing the vote and disenfranchising people,” said Kindle-Walker, who sees fewer voting centers and drop boxes as voter suppression.
There are other ways people can cast their ballots. How important are voting centers and drop boxes in the grand scheme of things?
In late July of 2020, about a week before the primary election, Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey touted their importance for voters.
“If they have a ballot, or if they’re waiting on a ballot at this point, they should not mail it. They should vote that ballot, sign the back of the envelope, and then drop it off at one of our vote centers, any vote center that’s closest to you or convenient for you drop it off there or drop it off at one of our drop boxes.”
Winfrey was worried that if voters mailed their ballots they might not arrive by 8 p.m. on Election Day and therefore would not be counted. And she was particularly worried about because of the significant mail delays at the time. The mail is still delayed, especially in the Detroit area. If people are planning to vote absentee in the weeks leading up to the election, drop boxes might once again be the best way to do so.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said there are a dozen satellite clerk offices open now as well as many drop boxes still in place. She adds, “And they do have to be staffed, they do have to be secured, so my hope and expectation is that the City of Detroit and cities and towns throughout our state are providing sufficient drop boxes. But we do defer to the clerks.”
Voting absentee was so popular during the last election. But things have changed a little bit since then. Can’t people just vote in person at their local precinct on Election Day?
A major difference between the upcoming election and last year’s election is vaccines are now available, so more people may be willing to vote in person on Election Day. However, vaccination rates in Detroit still lag compared to the state. Nearly 40% of residents age 12 and older have had at least one dose, so it’s hard to know if more people will be willing to vote in person or if they’ll stick to voting absentee. Especially since some of them who tried it last time around may have realized they like it better.
What else do people need to know about drop boxes?
Voters should be aware that drop boxes are not open 24/7 and should check hours before going. They’re currently open 9 a.m.— 4 p.m. Before you put your ballot in a drop box — or in the mail for that matter, but it’s probably too late to mail at this point — the outer envelope should be signed. If you forget to sign it and your clerk can’t get a hold of you before Election Day then your ballot will be thrown out.