Thursday, December 2, 2021

The 2020 presidential election is underway: here's your guide to early voting

October 7, 2020
<p>Voting ballot illustration by Hope Ann Flores.</p>

Voting ballot illustration by Hope Ann Flores.

Photo by Hope Ann Flores | The State News

With the 2020 presidential election less than a month away, voters are gearing up to make a difference and cast their votes in the midst of a global pandemic.

After 2.5 million people voted in August’s primary, breaking the previous primary record of 2.2 million voters in in 2018, voters are expected to participate in large amounts during the November election.

Due to COVID-19 cases once again on the rise, many voters are adopting the option of voting by mail while many are still considering whether to vote in-person or cast it via absentee ballots.

Over 60% of votes in the August primaries were casted with absentee ballots. More than 2.5 million people have requested an absentee ballot to vote in the November election and that number is only growing.

With a record amount voters requesting absentee ballots Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has said that it might lead to some uncertainties with the large influx of absentee ballots on election night. 

Here are some of the burning questions voters have about the absentee ballot for the upcoming presidential election. From the history to the process and the reliability of voting by mail, we provide you with an early voting guide.

Does my vote matter?

Michigan is predicted to be a battleground state again and will have the attention of the nation on election night. In 2016, Trump won the state by just 10,000 votes.

Polls of the presidential race in Michigan give Biden a marginal lead compared to polls conducted at around the same time in the 2016 election. Biden leads Trump as of Sept. 27 by four points according to a poll conducted by NBC News, while an Ipsos poll taken at a similar time in 2016 had Clinton and Trump tied.

A few counties could swing the whole presidential race in Michigan and the state itself could potentially decide the national race. Needless to say, MSU students' vote will matter in the race.

How to register

In Michigan, you are able to register to vote online. When registering, you are only required to give your name, driver's license number, your last four digits of your social security number and your current address. The whole process takes less than five minutes. 

The deadline to register online is Oct. 19, although you are able to register until the day of election at your local clerk's office.

How to request your ballot

You can request an absentee ballot online. The process requires the same information needed to register to vote and the only additional step is to confirm the address that you would like the ballot to be mailed to. 

The deadline to request a ballot online or in the clerk’s office is Oct. 30 to ensure that enough time is allotted to count and authorize the vote. 

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What's on the ballot?

The four biggest races that will be on the top of your ballot — if you are voting from East Lansing this year — will be: the President of the United States, between incumbent Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden; the U.S. Senate race between John James and incumbent Gary Peters, which looks very close on the polls; the race for Representative for U.S. Congress, between incumbent Elissa Slotkin and Paul Junge; and the race between incumbent Julie Brixie and Grace S. Norris for State Representative.

Michigan also offers an online option to see what will be on the ballot to offer voters a chance to do some research into the candidates they will be voting for, before the election day. 

How to make sure your vote is counted

In the 2020 Michigan Primary Election on August 4, around 10,000 mail-in ballots were rejected due to signature verification issues or late arrival.

Signing the back of the envelope that contains absentee voter ballot is extremely important. The City Clerk’s office will check to see if it matches your state-documented signature.

If you do not plan on returning your absentee ballot through your local ballot drop off box or clerk’s office, it is recommended that you mail out your ballot at least two weeks before the deadline -- which would be October 20.

To mark your ballot, use only a black or blue ink pen, and make sure to place the ballot in the secrecy sleeve so that votes cannot be seen and the numbered stub is visible.

Under current Michigan law, clerks cannot count absentee ballots until election day, but voters can still cast their vote at their local precinct on election day or drop off their absentee ballot at their local clerk's office.

Michigan also has over 1,000 ballot drop-off boxes where your vote can be securely cast. East Lansing has a ballot drop-off box located in the north lot of East Lansing City Hall at 410 Abbot Road. 

To find where the nearest ballot drop-off box visit, where you can also register to vote or request an absentee ballot.

The deadline to register to vote online is Oct. 19 and voters are able to request an absentee ballot up until Oct. 30.

The history of absentee voting

Absentee voting has been used for the past 200 years. It is secured through multiple steps of verification to uphold a high standard of accountability and can be all be completed at the comfort of your home without the risk of contracting COVID-19 at the polls. 

Voting by mail can be traced back to the American Civil War, when soldiers mailed in their votes from the front lines.

Up until the 1970s, absentee voting was primarily used in the military until California passed an early voting initiative — one which allows voters to apply for an absentee ballot without needing an excuse.

In 2000, Oregon was the first to create a system to exclusively vote with all mail-in voting. Today, at least three-quarters of all American voters will be eligible to receive a ballot in the mail for the 2020 election — the most in U.S. history, according to a New York Times analysis.

In Oregon in 2016, according to census data, 61 percent of eligible Oregonians voted, better than the 56 percent national average.

A Washington Post analysis of data from three states that conduct universal mail elections found a minor rate of potentially fraudulent ballots. 

The analysis identified just 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail, undercutting the president’s claims that absentee voting can be more fraudulent. 

Presently, 2.5 million people in Michigan have requested an absentee ballot to vote in the upcoming election in November, according to the Office of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.  

What makes voting by mail secure?

In Michigan, clerks go through a multiple-step process to ensure accurate voting and stem voter fraud.

Before ballots are even sent out, election officials continually update voter registration lists and reach out to voters to ensure that their permanent address is correct and current.

Ballots use unique envelopes to protect voter's choices. Information such as a driver’s license number or birthday is required on the back of the envelope, alongside a signature, to confirm a voter’s identity. Unique bar codes let election officials and voters track their ballots.

Whether a ballot is returned by mail or in person, Michigan has security measures in place. These protections include a secure, surveilled drop-off location and a verification process once ballots arrive at a clerk's office. 

As a final check, clerks match the signature on the ballot with the signature used to register to vote.

To help local clerks with the increase of absentee ballots for the November election, the Michigan Senate passed a bill to allow absentee ballot processing one day earlier to hopefully stem a delay in the result on election night. 

People who vote by mail are significantly more likely to make mistakes than those who vote in person, according to a study of California election results from 1990 to 2010.

Over 10,000 ballots were rejected in the August Primary due to signature verification issues or late arrival.

In Michigan, you are able to request an absentee ballot without stating a reason. On Thursday, Sept. 24, absentee ballots started to arrive at the homes of people that requested them. 

The ballots can be returned by mail, dropped off at your local clerk's office up until 8 p.m. on election night, or securely placed in pre-determined ballot drop-off boxes. 


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