For the first time in history, every registered voter in Michigan can request a mail-in ballot for the November general election.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the change is meant to ease worries about the close contact experienced with traditional voting. However, early testers have discovered another benefit — increased voter turnout.
Younger demographics, including college students, have a history of low voter turnout, particularly among minorities within those demographics.
For this reason, election returns may not accurately represent the population. With mail-in ballots, the hope is to keep voters safe from COVID-19 as well as achieve a more reliable result.
Whether due to ease or boredom from quarantine, counties that held elections in May and used remote voting saw a major increase in the number of votes cast, with some doubling previous records.
Jokes on Twitter about how voter turnout would increase if people were allowed to vote on PS4 or online have become no laughing matter. Though voting through your preferred gaming console may be a stretch, young people may find voting easier than ever.
Gezelle Kingdom Grier, a 2020 Holland High School graduate and social activist, will be voting in her first election this fall. Grier, who spoke at the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter Protest
in Holland in June, says, “The right to vote means the right to have a say in the future. It means the right to be able to give others human rights.”
“I was looking forward to voting in person,” says 18-year-old Grier, “but I think this will be much easier.”
Making the switch
A 2018 law ensured Michigan residents do not need to provide a reason to receive an absentee ballot, making it easy for the state of Michigan to make the switch to mail-in ballots a reality.
For the first time, all Michigan registered voters can use absentee ballots.
The option of voting by absentee ballot seems attractive to many first-time voters.
Jack Gasper, of Holland, will also be voting in his first general election this November. To him, being able to vote safely is one of the most critical elements of a democracy.
“Right to vote means right to vote; it doesn’t say how or where you should vote," says Gasper, a 20-year-old who attends Michigan State.
Opponents of the change cite possible voter fraud as a danger, since mailing a ballot does not require a voter to physically show up. However, the Ottawa County Clerk/Register of Deeds website refutes these claims, explaining the procedures taken to ensure the security of the vote.
Steven Daitch, the Elections Coordinator for Ottawa County, explains that mail-in ballots are subject to the same security as any other type of voting.
“Absentee ballots today are still subject to the same security checks that they were before the pandemic,” Daitch says. “Every voter has to complete an application before they can even receive a ballot. That application is compared to the voter’s information and signature already on file.”
Proponents of the move argue that, in states where traditional voting is still taking place, there have been reports of alleged voter suppression and overwhelmed polling stations.
“I think every state should have this option,” Gasper says. “It makes it easier for everyone to get a say, especially in a time like this.”
As the November election draws near and COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the United States, several states have already switched to mail-in ballots.
For more information about how to vote by mail or track your absentee ballot, check out the Ottawa County Clerk's website.
Read stories by and about Ottawa County youth:
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Seeing Unity Demonstration diversity ‘powerful’ for local youth
Fostering kittens during the pandemic
The anxiety of getting sick during the pandemic