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Masks, sanitizer and absentee ballots: What to know about Michigan’s primary

Record numbers of absentee voters and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic guarantee Tuesday will be an Election Day unlike any other in Michigan. 

Voters who head to polling places should expect more sanitization and social distancing during the first statewide election since the pandemic began in Michigan.

But don’t bet on fellow voters wearing masks, as polling places are exempt from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s mask mandate. And prepare for the possibility of late results because of a high number of absentee ballots.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson promoted the option this year, spending $4.5 million in federal coronavirus stimulus money to mail absentee ballot applications to all of the state’s 7.7 million registered voters.  As of Monday, the number of returned ballots was 1,289,025, nearly three times the 456,220 returned at the same time in 2016. 

A handful of highly competitive primaries have the potential to decide the results of their races Tuesday, but most voters will be deciding who will face off against the candidate of the other party in November. Many voters will also choose whether to approve local ordinances or millages. 

Here’s what you need to know: 

What will be on the ballot?

Tuesday’s election will not determine which candidates are elected to the office they’re running for. 

Instead, voters will be deciding which candidate they’d like to represent their political party in the general election on Nov. 3.

That will include candidates for one U.S. Senate seat, all 14 of Michigan’s U.S. House seats, all 110 state House seats, several local offices such as prosecutor or clerk, and a number of local ballot issues such as millages for schools or public services.

Can I still register to vote?

Yes, voters can register to vote up to and on Election Day in Michigan. But if you haven’t yet registered, don’t go to your polling place. 

Instead, go to your local clerk’s office before 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Bring something showing proof of where you live. It can be in electronic or physical form. 

Document options include: 

  • a Michigan driver’s license or state ID
  • a current utility bill
  • a bank statement
  • a paycheck
  • a government check
  • another government document

While you’re there, you can request an absentee ballot, fill it out and return it there to vote.

What are the most competitive races?

Because this is a primary, those with the most at stake on Tuesday are people who live in highly conservative or liberal areas where whoever wins the party’s nomination has a significant advantage to win the office in November. 

Perhaps the most competitive primary race is in the 13th Congressional District, which represents portions of Detroit and surrounding suburbs. Though its boundaries have changed slightly over redistricting cycles, the district has elected Democrats for decades. 

It’s now held by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, a progressive who faces a rematch against Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones. She held the seat briefly in 2018 to finish former Rep. John Conyers Jr.’s term and narrowly lost in a crowded field for the full 2018-2020 term. 

Other competitive races include the 10th Congressional District in Michigan’s Thumb region and the 3rd Congressional District encompassing Grand Rapids and Battle Creek in West Michigan. 

In the 10th, multiple candidates are vying to succeed U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden Township, in this reliably Republican district in Michigan’s Thumb. Mitchell announced last year he would not seek re-election after only two terms. State Rep. Shane Hernandez of Port Huron, who leads the state’s House Appropriations Committee, is running against businesswoman Lisa McClain and former Air Force Brig. Gen. Dough Slocum, who commanded the Selfridge Air National Guard Base near Mount Clemens.

In the 3rd, five Republicans are facing off to replace U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, L-Cascade Township. This district is more politically purple than the 10th or the 13th, but it favors Republicans and has chosen GOP candidates since the early 1990s. 

Amash has publicly criticized Trump and left the Republican party last year. He formally announced he would not be seeking re-election just last month. Peter Meijer, heir of the grocery-store chain and an Iraq War veteran, is the frontrunner but faces challenges from state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis, businessman Joe Farrington, former village president Tom Norton and attorney Emily Rafi.

The 8th and 11th Congressional Districts in southeast Michigan are also ones to watch on Tuesday. These races won’t be decided by who wins this week, but the results will set the stage for what is likely to be fierce competitions for the seats in these swing districts held by first-term Democratic Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens. 

Can I vote for candidates of both political parties?

No, you cannot “split” your ticket during the August primary — if you do, your candidate votes won’t count. Choose one political party and vote only for candidates in that party. The political party you choose is not public record.

Can I vote in person?

Yes, anyone can vote in person on Tuesday. Enter your information here to see whether you’re registered to vote and where your polling place is (under “Election Information.”)

When will polls be open? 

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday. 

Do I need an ID to vote?

While voters are encouraged to bring photo ID to the polls, you don’t have to. Voters without a photo ID just need to sign an affidavit saying they don’t have one or have one with them. It doesn’t change the way the ballot is processed or counted.  

Do I need to wear a mask at the polls?

Masks are encouraged but not required for voters at polling places, according to an executive order from Whitmer. All poll workers are required to wear masks.

There will be safety precautions in place at the polls, but elections officials have encouraged voters to go to their polling place in the mid-afternoon or mid-morning to avoid long lines. They also recommend absentee voting in the future as needed to avoid exposure to others at voting precincts. 

What safety precautions will be in place?

The Bureau of Elections sent guidance to all county and local clerks in Michigan in July. It recommends precincts require social distancing, do frequent cleaning and sanitizing of voting equipment and other high-touch surfaces, have hand sanitizer available for use right before and after voting, and provide masks for those who want to wear one but don’t have one. 

There may be a line outside voting precincts, as poll workers are encouraged to limit the number of people who can go inside polling places at once.

Poll workers checking ID will likely be wearing a face shield in addition to a face mask. They may ask voters to briefly lower their masks to check their photo ID, “but in most instances this will not be necessary,” the guidance reads.

Each voting precinct should have been given at least one can of disinfectant spray or a package of wipes, a gallon of hand sanitizer, 50 face masks, one box of gloves and five face shields. Pens and secrecy sleeves are supposed to be sanitized and shared equipment should be kept to a minimum.

Some precincts will have protective shields between election workers and voters and physical dividers between voting booths and around tabulators. Some will also have thermometers to check the temperature of election workers. Voters will not be screened for fever or any other coronavirus symptoms. 

Drive-thru voting may be available at your polling place, depending on the precinct and the equipment your local clerk is using for voting. Any precinct offering drive-thru voting also has to provide other ways to vote.

Election workers will be allowed to enforce social distancing and mask-wearing requirements for any poll watchers or challengers.

Can I bring my kids with me?

Yes, voters can bring children into the polling place and into the voting booth with them. 

Can I still vote absentee?

It is too late to mail in an absentee ballot — any ballot that reaches the clerk’s office after Election Day won’t be counted. Voters who have already requested an absentee ballot and have received it in the mail can fill it out and take it in to their clerk’s office or drop it in their local ballot drop box any time before 8 p.m. on Election Day. 

Voters can still technically vote absentee by going into their local clerk’s office on Election Day and requesting an absentee ballot. They can fill out the ballot and submit it there instead of going to their voting precinct.

I mailed in my absentee ballot but I am not sure if it made it there. How do I check?

Enter your information here to see if the clerk has received your ballot. Under “Absentee Voter Ballot Status” it will list the date the ballot was received. If no date is recorded under “Ballot Received,” the clerk has not received your ballot. 

My absentee ballot still hasn’t made it to the clerk. What should I do?

Go to your local clerk’s office and ask them to spoil your old ballot. The clerk will cancel your old ballot and issue you a new one, which you can fill out in person and submit at your clerk’s office. 

I have a felony record or was recently incarcerated. Can I vote?

Yes, Michigan is one of 16 states in which people, including those with felony convictions, regain their right to vote immediately upon being released from prison.

People incarcerated in jail or prison who are still waiting for their trial or arraignment are also eligible to vote. 

Those currently serving sentences in jail or prison are not eligible to vote. 

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