On June 2, the Grand Rapids City Clerk’s Office began mailing absentee ballot applications to all residents who are registered to vote. Registered voters completing and returning their application to the City Clerk can opt to receive absentee ballots for the August 4 primary election, the November 3 presidential election, or both.
“During these uncertain times, voting by mail is easy, safe and secure,” says City Clerk Joel Hondorp. “If a voter still wants to cast a ballot in person on Election Day, we are preparing to open all 76 precincts.”
After returning the application, residents can check on their application’s progress on the Michigan Department of State Voter Information Center web page, which also has options for verifying voter registration information, viewing sample ballots, finding polling locations, and more. The site also gives voters the capability to confirm that their ballot was received.
“You may also register to vote online at that same site as well as request an application for an absentee ballot. The application can be emailed to the city clerk who runs elections in your area,” says Amanda Sterling, a Grand Rapids resident who helped lead the petition drive to put Proposal 3 on the ballot in 2018. “You can also track to make sure your ballot was received on that website. Voters are encouraged to follow up with their city clerk if their ballot has not been received. They may also turn it in in person at the clerk’s office.”
While COVID-19 has put absentee voting in the national spotlight, voters in Michigan passed Proposal 3 in November 2018, making all voters in the State eligible to receive an absentee ballot for each election.
“I think absentee voting will definitely increase the numbers of people voting,” Sterling says. “It’s our responsibility as citizens to vote for the leaders that we think are going to represent us. When more people participate, representation is better and those leaders know we’re paying attention, can hold them accountable, and, if they are not acting in our best interest, we can vote to remove them.”
While mail-in voting is increasing voter participation, those increases aren’t being seen among African American voters. In fact, the percentage of African American voters choosing to vote by mail is about half that of white voters. According to Sean Kenny, who also worked on the Proposal 3 petition drive, these numbers are understandable in light of continuing voter suppression.
“Absentee voting would certainly be a good work around for African Americans. They are less likely to have government issued IDs [required to vote in person]. The absentee ballot application just asks for a Social Security number so that is good,” Kenney says. “As far as rejection of ballots if signatures are not matching, if you have a partisan secretary of state, when they pull up your signature, they also see your party affiliation. Minority voters and democratic signatures get flagged much more often. In Michigan we are fine. But, if I was in a Republican controlled state and I was Black, I might not trust vote by mail either.”
Thankfully, in Michigan, the State of Michigan does not require voters to disclose a party affiliation. And, at the polls, if voters do not have an accepted photo ID with them, they can sign an affidavit and still vote.
People who want to vote by mail can register for an absentee ballot by mail up to 15 days before an election or in person at the City Clerk’s Office within 14 days of the election with proof of residency. The City of Grand Rapids is also preparing to open all 76 precinct polling locations.
“The reforms that were passed under Proposal 3 in 2018 removed many barriers that had previously made Michigan one of the worst states in terms of accessibility to voting. We are now one of the best,” Sterling concludes. “Let’s make our voices heard!”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy The City of Grand Rapids and Amanda Sterling