Michiganians enjoy new voting rights in May election
City clerks throughout Michigan are preparing for the first election after new laws took effect allowing for same-day voter registration.
Passage of Proposal 3 in November allows voters to both register and vote up until 8 p.m. on Election Day, which is Tuesday.
While voter turnout is traditionally low in May elections, some local clerks say they are expecting small increases because of the change.
Groups who pushed for revisions to the law, meanwhile, say they will be watching Tuesday to make sure things run smoothly.
“It makes it easier for voters, and we want to try to get more people engaged in voting,” said Sally Williams, director of elections. “There are over 500 jurisdictions that have elections on that day.”
Williams said there are two major changes this year.
“Anybody can vote from home now,” she said. “It used to be that when voting absentee, you had to have a reason. And the second big piece has to do with voter registration. You used to have to register at least 30 days prior, but now you can do it right up to Election Day, which is a huge change."
Sixty-five out of Michigan’s 83 counties will hold elections Tuesday, with many involving school millages.
“The May 7 election will be the first time Michigan citizens can take advantage of the sweeping new voting rights instilled in our constitution as a result of the Promote the Vote constitutional amendment enacted last fall,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a statement. “Now any citizen can vote by mail at their convenience and register to vote up to and on Election Day at their local clerk’s office. It’s a new day for Michigan’s democracy.”
In Oak Park, voters will be asked to weigh in on a non-homestead operating millage renewal proposal for the Oak Park Schools. Oak Park Clerk Ed Norris said there’s no way to tell how many will show up to register and vote that day.
“That’s our big obstacle,” Norris said. “We don’t know the volume of people. In Oak Park, we have a pretty good number of residents we think are registered voters. We worry about a big election and what kind of turnout we’re going to deal with that day.”
Norris said he and staff are working to determine how to staff accordingly. He anticipates the city will purchase additional tabulators in the future to process an increase in absentee ballots.
Sharon Dolente, a voting rights expert for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said the organization will watch for potential issues on Tuesday. The ACLU of Michigan helped finance the Promote the Vote effort that led to the passage of Proposal 3.
“Really no one should be turned away,” Dolente said. “What we’re going to be looking for is making sure voters who show up perhaps in the wrong place or don’t necessarily have on them the right information, that they’re given guidance and the information they need to vote and express their voice on Election Day as much as possible.
"If you show up in one location on Election Day, but you need to be in a different location in order to register, it’s really important that the voter gets that advice. They’re going to need some help from election officials to point them in the right direction, particularly as these things are relatively new.”
Dolente expects there will be questions on both sides.
“Officials are implementing new things, and they need to understand it and figure it out and voters the same thing,” she said. “I’m hoping there’s a real collaborative effort that folks get in the right place.”
In Woodhaven, the clerk’s office is preparing for a special election for a Van Horn Road overpass bond proposal. Woodhaven Clerk Kristie Keene said special elections usually draw a 20% voter turnout.
While there could be a small increase in voter turnout on Tuesday, Keene said the change will likely have the most impact during a large election, particularly presidential elections.
“You always have your last-minute people,” Keene said. “Last November, we had young people trying to register to vote on the day of the election. ... They couldn’t vote. It will be nice for that.”
In Highland Park, voters will be asked to vote on a charter amendment proposal. Highland Park Clerk Brenda Green said her department operates with a two-person staff and could add up to two workers Tuesday to help handle voter registrations and process absentee votes.
“Whether it’s a big or small ballot, we can’t downsize,” Green said.
Green said Highland Park usually has a 3% or 4% voter turnout. The city may see an increase in absentee voter response, she said.
“That was a good change,” Green said. “I think a person should be able to vote absentee regardless.”
Election law changes
Passage of Proposal 3 in November allows voters to register up until 8 p.m. on Election Day. And if you want to vote absentee, you won’t need to provide a reason.
From now until Tuesday, a person can register in person with his or her township or city clerk. You will not be able to register at a precinct. Voters who register on Election Day get a ballot and can vote that day.
Aren’t registered yet, or need to update your address? Just go in person to your city or township clerk’s office and show proof of residency.
Acceptable documents to verify residency include a driver’s license, state ID card, current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, government check or other government document. The documents must have name and current address. Digital copies are acceptable.
All voters also now can vote early.
Pick up an application at the county, township or city clerks; offices or at Michigan.gov/Vote. Voters can drop off applications at their township or city clerk’s office by 4 p.m. Monday, May 6. and get their ballot.
After the ballot is received complete it, sign it and drop it off in person at your township or city clerk, or return it through the mail.
Ballots must be signed and received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Visit Michigan.gov/Vote to see if your county is holding an election. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Election Day.
To check registration status, visit the Michigan Voter Information Center at Michigan.gov/Vote. There, one can see a sample ballot and find a corresponding polling place.