What you need to know before Michigan's Aug. 4 primary election

A "vote here" sign sits outside of the Hopkins Township hall in Hopkins, Michigan, on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. While some polling places were open to in-person voting, most Michigan residents cast ballots in the May 5 election by absentee voting to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (WWMT/Sarah White)

Michigan’s Primary Election is Aug. 4, 2020 and there are a few things to know before casting that ballot or dropping off the absentee ballot at your clerk’s office to ensure your vote counts.

If you want to see a sample ballot for your specific region, check it out online. You can enter your specific information and see the exact ballot you'll see on election day.

Registering to vote

There are several options.

If you’ve never registered to vote in Michigan before, it’s too late to register online, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still participate in the Aug. 4 election.

Show up to your city or township’s clerk’s office before 8 p.m. on Election Day and bring proof of residency that includes your current address. Yes – it can be an electronic copy.

Bring one of the following:

  • A Michigan driver’s license or state ID
  • A current utility bill
  • A bank statement
  • A paycheck
  • A government check
  • Another government-issued document

If you’re already registered to vote but have recently moved, there are three options:

  1. Bring a document showing proof of residency with the new address. Documents are the same as the list aforementioned and again, it can be in election form.
  2. Vote at your old polling one last time and then change your address before the next election. Don’t know where your polling location is? Find it online.
  3. Request an absentee ballot at your old city or township clerk’s office. Don’t put it in the mail though, it won’t get to your clerk’s office in time to be counted for the Aug. 4 election.

I still have my absentee ballot, what do I do?

Don’t put it in the mail. Plain and simple. It’s too late for your ballot to make it to your clerk’s office to be counted before polls close at 8 p.m. on Election Day.

There are drop boxes all over the state – in most jurisdictions – that you can take you absentee ballot to ensure your vote gets counted. Ballots dropped off there will be collected and counted on time.

Absentee voting is hitting all-time highs in Michigan. After voters approved no-reason absentee voting in 2018, there was an influx in its use. Now, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, Michiganders are opting to vote by mail more than before, especially compared to the same time in 2016.

Make sure the envelope is signed and dated. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said a small percentage of absentee ballots are invalidated during a typical election due to the signature not matching the original voter registration file.

“With the large number of people voting by mail this year, it’s more important than ever that everyone knows to sign that envelope and sign it legibly because that is the signature we use to identify that they are who they say they are and protect the security of the process,” said Benson.

COVID-19 Precautions

In-person voting will be available in every jurisdiction on Aug. 4. While it might feel like an election, it may not look like a traditional day at the polls.

The Michigan Department of State has implemented several COVID-19 regulations: social distancing will be enforced, and the Bureau of Elections has provided personal protective equipment to clerk’s offices statewide, including gloves, face shields, disposable masks, hand sanitizer and others.

While most election workers could be wearing masks, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer did not mandate masks to be worn while voting in-person.

“Masks, hand sanitizers, sneeze guards -- our team has been working overtime to deliver these supplies all throughout the state of Michigan so that they will be on hand tomorrow,” Benson said. “We’re also asking voters and reminding them to mask up.”

The state needs people to work elections. There is an online resource dedicated to helping people sign up to volunteer as an election worker.

Election Results

Secretary Benson said due to the high volume of absentee voting – and clerk’s not having the ability to begin processing absentee voting until election day – results could be delayed by a few days.

“All data would suggest that we are talking about at least one or two days before we get the results for most races in our August primary,” Benson said on July 29, 2020.

In Michigan’s March presidential primary, Benson said 1 million absentee voting ballots were processed by clerks around the state, highlighting the potential for the delay since clerks cannot process ballots until Election Day.

“Democracy is a team sport. While we have diligently carried out the will of the voters, alongside our clerks who have met every challenge thrown our way this year, our work has been made more challenging by the inaction in our state legislature,” Benson said.

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