Michigan Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson says you can vote as soon as September 24
Recent changes to our state voting laws couldn’t have come at a better time, as they expand safe and secure voting options to all Michigan citizens, especially in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic. In an online town hall meeting hosted by a group of social justice organizations Thursday evening, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson answered questions from those new to voting such as immigrants who have recently become citizens.
Election day is November 3rd this year but because of the new “No reason absentee ballot” law, registered voters can vote at their city clerk's office during their regular business hours as early as September 24th. You can find your clerk’s office here. “2.1 million citizens have already requested to have their ballot mailed to them in advance of this fall’s election,” Benson said. If you are not yet registered to vote, same day registration will allow you to get on the rolls and cast your ballot in one trip to the clerk’s office.
The new laws will also make the process easier if you can’t get to your clerk’s office. If you are a US citizen with a valid Michigan ID or driver's license and will be over 18 years old on November 3rd, you can register to vote through the Secretary of State's website. The deadline to go online and register to vote is Oct 19. But once you have, you can go online again to request your absentee ballot.
When your ballot arrives in the mail, fill it out and return it as soon as possible. Remember, postal mail delivery times are much longer than we’ve come to expect. To make sure your ballot arrives in time to be counted, Benson recommends you mail it no later than October 20th, at least 2 weeks before election day. But the most certain way to know your ballot is tabulated is to deliver it by hand. Most clerk’s offices will have a secure drop box you can use 24 hours a day. You can even track the progress of your ballot online.
If you enjoy the pomp and circumstance of in-person voting, the final day of elections is Tuesday November 3rd. On this day, you must vote at your polling location if already registered. If you are not registered to vote by Nov. 3rd, you can still vote, but you will have to go to your city clerk’s office or one of their satellite offices to get registered and vote on election day.
Photo ID is not required to vote unless you are a first time voter in Michigan. Benson said you can vote by signing an affidavit. Also, returning citizens are eligible to vote even if they are still on parole. “People don’t lose their right to vote because of their criminal history,” Benson said. If you encounter a challenge or confusion when voting, you should call her hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE to resolve the issue.
Because of COVID-19, we are facing a shortage of poll workers. “We are working to provide new volunteers to ensure every jurisdiction can have enough people to count absentee ballots and open their polling location,” Benson said. If you are young and healthy, please sign up to become a paid poll worker on election day, especially if you are bilingual. The only requirement is that you must be a registered voter on election day. Benson said her office wants to ensure poll workers reflect the communities they serve.
One main concern raised by Fatima Tayebi from ABISA was in regard to immigrants who need interpretation at the polls. "You have the right to bring someone bilingual that you trust to assist you throughout the voting process, as long as they are not working on another ballot at the same time." This is an option if your ballot is not available in your native language and you are not a fluent English speaker. “There’s federal protection under the Voting Rights Act that enables individuals to identify someone to assist them if they speak English as a second language or have any type of disability,” Benson said. This person doesn't need any credentials, they just need to be someone that you trust, such as a family member, friend or neighbor.
Daniel Caracheo from Michigan United also raised the concern about consequences for non-qualified voters since only American citizens have the right to vote. "What happens if you are a legal permanent resident or DACA recipient, and accidentally register to vote?" he asked. “We haven’t actually seen a lot of incidents of people voting if they’re not citizens,” Benson said. “But certainly if they did, that would be against the law. We have safety mechanisms to prevent that from happening.”
This Virtual Voting Rights Town Hall was organized by ABISA, ACCESS, Action of Greater Lansing, American Citizens for Justice, EMGAGE, Michigan United, and the Michigian Secretary of State’s office. Click on any of their names to find out how you can volunteer to help get out the vote and protect everyone’s right to vote this year.