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Michigan Aug. 4 primary election: What you need to know to vote

The Aug. 4 primary election is next week, the first statewide election since the coronavirus pandemic hit Michigan and one that could largely be decided with absentee ballots.

That’s because of new laws allowing same-day registration and no-reason voting by mail, which may be used more than ever because of the threat of the ongoing virus. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson also spent $4.5 million in federal coronavirus aid to mail absentee ballot applications to all of Michigan’s 7.7 million registered voters.

As of last week, the total number of returned ballots was 607,079 ballots, nearly three times the 215,500 returned at the same time in 2016. 

The August primary election determines who the candidates will be for each party in the November election. The offices up for grabs include all state and U.S. House seats, one of Michigan’s U.S. Senate seats and several local offices and millages.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the primary. 

How do I register to vote? 

First, check if you’re already registered to vote here

Because the election is fewer than two weeks away, you’ll have to go to your city or township clerk to apply to register to vote. You can go any time before 8 p.m. on Election Day and still vote. 

When you go, take a document that shows where you live. Valid documents include: 

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

How can I vote?

Once you’re registered, you can vote in-person at your polling place or through an absentee ballot. 

To vote in person, search for your polling place here and go there from 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Aug. 4. You’re encouraged to bring a photo ID with you (these types count), but you can still vote if you don’t have one or bring one. You just have to sign a form saying you don’t have it.

To vote absentee, send an absentee voter application to your local clerk or bring it in in person. They must receive it before 5 p.m. Friday before the election (July 31). If you are registered to vote, you should have received an absent voter application in the mail that looks like this, but in color. You can use that or send in the form linked to above. 

It’s not too late to receive an absent voter ballot in the mail, but if you haven’t yet requested one, it’s probably too late to send it back through the mail. More on that below. 

Can anyone vote absentee? 

Yes, due to changes in the state constitution in 2018, any eligible voter is allowed to vote absentee and does not need to provide a reason for doing so.

When is my absentee ballot due?

To be counted, your absentee ballot has to reach your clerk’s office before the polls close on Election Day. 

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said she suggests those who already have an absentee ballot send it at least a week before the election to account for potential postal delays. That means if you have one, sending it ASAP is a smart move.

If you haven’t already received your absentee ballot — or if you haven’t sent yours in the mail yet and want to be safe — Byrum recommends dropping your ballot off in person at the clerk’s office or a ballot drop box. Call your local clerk or check their website to see where drop boxes are in your community. 

Can I vote for both political parties? 

No, you can only vote for one political party in the primary. That means you can’t “split” your ticket — for example, you cannot vote for a Democrat for your U.S. House seat and a Republican for your state House seat. 

“Pick a lane and stay in it,” Byrum said. 

In November, those rules change and you will be allowed to vote for candidates of any political party.

You also don’t have to vote in every race on the ballot — you can pick and choose the races, ballot issues or millages that you would like to vote in. 

Is it public record which party I vote for? 

In Michigan’s presidential primary (which happened in March) it is public record what party you voted for, but not which candidate you chose, because there are separate ballots for Republicans and Democrats. That means political groups and others can request that information and use it to help them target you for campaigns more effectively. 

But in the August primary, it is NOT public record which party you vote for. All candidates appear on the same ballot.

How do I know whether the clerk received my absentee ballot? 

You can check online to see whether your ballot has been received. Fill in your voter information and a box on the top right-hand side of the page labeled “Absentee Voter Ballot Status” will indicate whether it has been received. 

If it’s close to Election Day and it still isn’t marked as received, call your local clerk and check. If they haven’t received it, you can go fill out an absentee ballot in person at your clerk’s office. 

That would involve “spoiling” your ballot, which means telling the clerk to toss your old ballot and give you a new one. You can vote an absentee ballot in-person at the clerk’s office through Election Day.

I want to vote in person. Do I have to wear a mask to the polls? 

No, under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest executive order on masks, you do not have to wear a mask inside a polling place. However, it’s “strongly encouraged.” Masks are proven to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

I got a piece of mail from the Secretary of State earlier this year. Is that my absentee ballot?

No, that is an absentee ballot application. In order to get an absentee ballot, you have to fill out an application and send it in to your clerk. 

How many stamps should I put on my absentee ballot? 

Neither your absentee ballot application nor the ballot itself includes pre-paid postage, so you need to add your own stamps to send it back in the mail. 

Byrum of Ingham County recommends using two stamps to send your ballot, which should be enough to ensure ballots in most areas make it to the clerk’s office. If you have a particularly long ballot (with multiple pages, for example), check with your local clerk to check whether you need to add more stamps.

Can I send my absentee ballot in a different envelope than the one I received from my clerk?

No, you must return your absentee ballot in the envelope provided by the clerk. The “secrecy sleeve” provided with your ballot is NOT the only envelope you need. Put your completed ballot inside the secrecy sleeve, then inside the return envelope provided.

Sending it in a different envelope will cause your ballot to be rejected. If you sent your absentee ballot in a different envelope, “contact your clerk immediately” to get instructions on what to do next, Byrum said. 

Do I have to sign the outside of the envelope I send my ballot in?

Yes, follow the instructions provided with your ballot and make sure you sign the return envelope before you put it in the mail. The signature box should be on the backside of the envelope.

Your signature must match your signature on file with the Secretary of State’s office for your vote to count. If your signature has significantly changed in recent years or you’re worried it will be rejected, contact your local clerk.

If I plan to move between now and the election, where should I vote? 

You can vote at your new address or your old one, but you can only pick one. If you’ve already received an absentee ballot at your old address and want to vote there, you can send it in to your old clerk’s office and update your voter registration to reflect your new address before the next election. 

If you want to vote at your new address, contact your clerk’s office to update your voter registration.

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