To make it easier for citizens to vote in November, the City of Grand Rapids has added six more 24/7 absentee ballot dropboxes across the city. All are monitored for security and include instructions in English and Spanish. City Clerk staff will collect ballots from the dropboxes multiple times each day. Voters can even enter a code to receive an “I Voted!” sticker.
“We support efforts that increase access and make it more convenient for voters,” says Raven Odom, project manager/organizer with Urban Core Collective. “Voting should be one of the easiest things. Anything that helps reduce barriers. The use of ballot boxes is especially important around the delays in the USPS and safety issues regarding COVID-19. The only dropbox before was downtown. Not only are there varied locations to make it more available, they are available 24/7.”
Four of the dropboxes are in front of Grand Rapids Public Library (GRPL) branches: Ottawa Hills branch, 1150 Giddings Ave. SE, Seymour, 2350 Eastern Ave. SE, Van Belkum, 1563 Plainfield Ave. NE and West Leonard, 1017 Leonard St. NW. In addition, 24/7 ballot dropboxes are located at 427 Market Ave. SW, at the corner of Wealthy Street, and across from Calder Plaza at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW. City residents can also drop off their absentee ballots at City Hall in the dropbox in the Monroe-level lobby.
To get Grand Rapids ready for November’s election, the Urban Core Collective has conducted voter education and outreach to increase registration, absentee voting, and poll worker diversity. Virtual storytelling events have highlighted community members’ own experiences to underline the importance of voting.
“Our strategy has involved both in-person and virtual events. We’ve been at the Southeast Area Farmers Market at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, at LINC-UP food distribution events, and participated in Baxter [Community Center] Social Yet Distant events,” Odom says. “Over the past few years, we’ve seen this rise in hateful speech and decision making that has impacted the lives and wellbeing of Black and LatinX people here in Grand Rapids and across the country. Voting is one mechanism to push for significant change."
Urban Core Collective is working with community partners and affinity groups to host phone banks, canvass-door to-door, and deliver voter registration posters to organizations and businesses. The posters include a QR code that, when scanned, leads to a voter registration website.
“When I think about the people whose lives have been lost because of the lack of response to COVID-19 and policing and the everyday violence folks have to live through, it’s very important to think about who we elect,” Odom says. “Thinking about voter suppression, the way that our voices are stifled to prevent us from exercising our vote, that’s another motivation for us to be in this work, to make sure that Black and LatinX folks have the power and ability to raise their voices and cast their votes.”
In addition to ballots, the dropboxes can be used for other election documents, as well, for example, voter registration forms and absentee voter applications. Voters can track their ballots online at the Michigan Voter Center. The website also provides information on absentee ballot registration, voter registration status, polling locations, and a photo of how the ballot will look.
Grand Rapids voters can also return their absentee ballot by mail or in-person to the City Clerk’s Office at City Hall, 300 Monroe Ave. NW, second floor, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday (validated parking available) or Election Central, 201 Market Ave. SW, noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday (free parking on-site).
“This is a safe and secure way for voters to cast their absentee ballot,” says City Clerk Joel Hondorp. “The dropboxes offer another option for voters who want to maintain physical distancing during COVID-19.”
Because an increased number of voters are expected to cast absentee ballots, Hondorp encourages voters who plan to mail them to do so as soon as possible — and to make sure to sign the envelope.
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Interim Innovation News Editor
Photos courtesy City of Grand Rapids and Urban Core Collective.