There’s no doubt that November 3 will mark one of the most unprecedented elections in U.S. history. Amidst divisive politics, security concerns and a global pandemic, fears and anxieties have bubbled into issues over things such as health and safety to mail-in ballots.
Cordell Zachary, a social activist, has been canvassing about voting rights for the upcoming election. He says that while it used to be taboo, having conversations around voting is important and that voting and politics are different things. “So now we're just having conversations to make sure everybody knows or is aware of what's to come and things around voting.”
What You Need to Know
In addition to electing the president, there are important proposals on this year’s local ballot. Put on the ballot by Empower the Citizens, Proposal I will change the local election cycle by requiring all city elections to take place on even years instead of odd years. This means that local elections will run on the same cycle as state and national elections. Opposition, such as Keep GR Local, notes that lumping local non-partisan elections with partisan state and national elections may have a negative influence on the city’s partisan politics.Volunteers canvassing with Urban Core Collective.
Proposal 2 would eliminate the current provision that allows candidates to be elected to city office if they win a certain percentage of votes in the August primary.
In 2018 Michigan passed Proposal 3
, the Voting Policies in State Constitution Initiative, which expanded voting rights such as automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, straight-ticket voting, and no-excuse absentee voting.
This change allows voters to register to vote through election day. October 19 was the deadline to register via mail or online, but voters can still register in person at the Clerk’s in City Hall through November 3.
Grand Valley State University announced a satellite Clerk’s office on-campus in the Kirkhoff Center, allowing students to register to vote, request an absentee ballot, or vote in person.
A sample ballot can be viewed online
and will have three sections: Partisan, Non-Partisan, and Proposals. This year, voters will be able to vote a straight ticket in addition to a split ticket or selecting candidates individually.
“A lot of people are worried about absentee ballots, like are their votes safe? What votes are actually going to be counted? I think there's a lot of fear around security, so we're trying to alleviate that and let them [voters] know that there are some safe methods to getting your vote in,” says Zachary.
around the security of mail-in or absentee voting, a Washington Post analysis
of three states that have universal mail-in voting found that only 0.0025% of 14.6 million votes cast in the 2016 and 2018 elections were potentially fraudulent.
The City of Grand Rapids has added six new dropboxes around the city, all of which are accessible 24/7, are monitored for security and have instructions in both English and Spanish. Voters can submit ballots or voter documents. According to the city
, ballots remain sealed and in a secure location until election day, when they are brought to the Absent Voter Processing Board. Ballots can be tracked here
The passing of Proposal 3 has caused some confusion for voters this year, according to Lateshia Parker, press secretary for NextGen Michigan, a chapter of NextGen America, a progressive, liberal-leaning nonprofit that mobilizes young voters. Parker says that they’ve been working to educate young voters on how to mail-in absentee ballots correctly, especially this year, with many students moving on and off campus due to COVID-19.
College campuses are typically where NextGen makes a large impact on young voters, but this year, they’ve had to think creatively about how to reach voters, such as through virtual presentations.
This is the first presidential election where NextGen has a chapter in Michigan. In 2016, Donald Trump won Michigan by only 10,704 votes, but according to Parker, NextGen registered nearly four times that number of voters.
“Just in Michigan alone, we've already surpassed the number of total absentee ballots that were mailed in for 2016, just with the ones that have already been returned. So, there was a total of 483,083 ballots requested for voters under 35 within the state of Michigan. In 2016, it was only 100,594.”
In Grand Rapids 2,802 absentee ballots for voters under 35 were submitted in 2016, according to Parker. For this election, 16,095 absentee ballots have been returned so far.
NextGen Michigan surveyed young voters across the state and found that healthcare, cost of college, racial equality and justice, and climate change were the most important.
“Young voters have a larger share of the electorate than any other generation. So if we continue to get out in large numbers, then we'll have a larger share than our grandparents and our parents,” says Parker. “So this is our time to shine.”
Voting during COVID-19
Despite the passage of Proposal 3, the number of absentee ballots most likely reflects the reality of this election season — the pandemic. Safety protocols are being taken at all polling locations, according to the city, where poll workers will be supplied with masks, gloves, and face shields. Disinfectant wipes will also be used to regularly clean surfaces and pens. Each polling location will also have physical distancing markers to ensure safe distance among voters and staff.Absentee ballot application.
“I think this one is maybe the most divisive election and I think that means a lot,” says Zachary.
“And so I think whatever it is, it's important to at least have a voice and to exercise your right to vote ... you’re making political actions ... you’re doing things in the community, but without voting, it doesn’t really, there’s no backing. I think voting is your way to solidify your voice and your stance in the community.”
Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids and Urban Core Collective.