Michigan absentee voters can spoil ballot, get new one if candidate drops out

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

As prominent Democratic presidential candidates drop out of the race, election officials are reminding Michigan voters that they don’t have to be stuck voting for a nonexistent candidate.

Absentee voters who cast early ballots for a nominee who withdrew from the race can change their vote up until the day before the election. As of Sunday, local clerks had issued 798,105 absentee ballots and received 427,427 back. 

Some Michigan voters already have absentee ballots in their hands for Michigan's March 10 presidential primary. This is an example of what the envelope carrying the ballot looks like.

The number is up significantly from the same time in 2016, when local clerks had issued 450,579 and received 263,031. 

Voters who want to change their vote can request to spoil their ballot and request a new one by mail before 2 p.m. Saturday or in person before 4 p.m. Monday. 

If a voter’s ballot has already been received by the clerk, there is no option to spoil the ballot on the day of the election. 

Requests to spoil a ballot ahead of election day must be made in writing in-person at the clerk’s office or voting center, by regular mail, by fax or through a signed letter emailed to the clerk. 

The reminder comes as the number of individuals submitting absentee ballots in Michigan continues to increase while the field of Democratic presidential candidates narrows. Fifteen Democrats and four Republicans are on the state's primary ballot, but only five Democrats and two GOP candidates have active campaigns. 

On the Democratic side, Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar ended her campaign Monday and was set to endorse former Vice President Joe Biden. Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced his withdrawal from the race Sunday, a day after billionaire activist Tom Steyer ended his bid. 

Clerks are preparing for other major candidates to end their runs after Tuesday and before Michigan’s primary on March 10. On Tuesday, known as Super Tuesday, 14 other states hold their presidential primary.  

“I’ve already told the staff to be prepared that we could see a lot of people coming in after Super Tuesday and before the primary to spoil their ballot,” said Rochester Hills Clerk Tina Barton. 

Barton said she saw a similar phenomenon in 2016 ahead of Michigan's Republican presidential primary as candidates withdrew and voters sought to change their choices. 

“We will spoil that ballot and then submit a new ballot to them,” Barton said. 

As of Monday, Detroit had issued 31,400 ballots and received 20,328 back. 

Janice Winfrey

 “We hold those ballots and we lock them in storage cases, divided by district and precinct,” said Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey. “We’ll destroy that initial ballot and then issue another.”

As of Monday, Rochester Hills had issued 8,741 ballots and received about 4,800 back. The number of ballots issued so far eclipsed the total number of ballots issued in the 2016 primary, when the city received 6,482 requests for absentee ballots.

Barton also encourage voters to check the status of their absentee ballot on the Secretary of State website to ensure their ballot requests were received. 

"Anytime you applied for a ballot and haven't received it, you should be calling the clerk after a few days," Barton said.


Withdrawn presidential candidates

Presidential candidates on Michigan's March 10 primary ballot who have suspended their campaigns.


Michael Benet

Cory Booker

Pete Buttigieg

Julian Castro

John Delaney

Amy Klobuchar

Joe Sestak

Tom Steyer

Marianne Williamson

Andrew Yang


Mark Sanford

Joe Walsh