This primary season, absentee ballots are all the rage.
Michigan voters passed a ballot measure in 2018 that allows for no-reason absentee voting, and the March 10 primary will be a major test for the new policy.
The Secretary of State says absentee ballot requests are up more than 70% from the same time in 2016.
Since so many more people are expected to vote absentee in March, here's what you need to know as you head to the mailbox.
Can I get an absentee ballot?
Are you 18 or older and registered to vote? If the answer's yes, you can get an absentee ballot!
If you're 18 or older, and not registered to vote, you can register and request an absentee ballot at the same time.
After years of voting rights advocates pushing for no-reason absentee voting, the measure was finally made law in 2018 when voters passed Proposal 3. The wide-ranging constitutional amendment also gives people the ability to register to vote on Election Day, and to vote straight ticket.
Before 2018, you had to be a senior citizen, have a physical disability, or know you would be out of town on Election Day, among other reasons.
How does absentee voting work?
If you want to have an absentee ballot mailed to you, you have to fill out a request form and either mail it to your county clerk, or scan and email it. The form has to be received by your clerk no later than 5 p.m. on the Friday before an election.
If you're already registered at your current address, you have until 4 p.m. on the day before an election to request an absentee ballot in person at your clerk's office. You can even register to vote on Election Day and get an absentee ballot at the clerk's office at the same time. (But if you're down to the wire on Election Day or the day before, you have to vote in the clerk's office.)
On the request form, you can choose to vote absentee in just the March 10 primary, both the primary and the November 3 general election, or to become a permanent absentee voter.
Your clerk will then mail the ballot to your preferred address. You vote like you normally would, put the ballot in a secret envelope, and have until 8 p.m. on Election Day to return it to your clerk. You don't even need a stamp to mail your ballot!
What if the candidate I voted for drops out before the primary?
A lot can happen between now and primary day, including the possibility that your preferred candidate drops out of the race. If that happens, and you've already mailed in your ballot, fear not: you can change your vote.
According to the Secretary of State's office, "The voter must sign the request and state if they would like a new absentee ballot mailed to them or if they will vote at the polls. This request must be received by 2 p.m. the Saturday before the election if received by mail. An absentee ballot may be spoiled in person at the clerk’s office until 4 p.m. the Monday prior to the election."
Will no-reason absentee voting have an effect on the election?
The increase in the number of absentee ballots does have some city clerks worried. Under current state law, absentee ballots cannot be counted until Election Day. That doesn't give clerks and volunteers much time to count ballots, especially because absentee ballots are slower to count than in-person ballots.
Why do absentee ballots take so long to count? It’s not the tabulation, but the physical process to open, check, and recheck the ballots before they are put through the tabulation machine.
There are proposed bills currently in the Legislature that would preemptively address the problem, but it is unclear whether the bills will even pass, let alone in time for the election. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey has said the state Senate might not even consider the bills that have passed the committee stage.
“We’ve got to give our clerks more credit,” Shirkey told Bridge Magazine. “They understand what they’re up against, so let’s see what kind of solutions and creativity they come up with.”
The Michigan primary is Tuesday, March 10.
This post previously said absentee ballots can be spoiled only before Saturday, when in fact it can be done in-person until the Monday before Election Day. This has been corrected.