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Michigan Elections FAQ: How are absentee ballot drop boxes monitored?

Ballot drop box
Cities cannot make their own rules when it comes to monitoring absentee ballot dropboxes. (Bridge photo by Jordyn Hermani)
  • Michigan ballot drop boxes are governed by state law, meaning local municipalities do not get to make their own rules
  • Cities must have video monitoring on their drop boxes within 75 days of an election but have until 2026 to install systems on older boxes
  • Only a few specific individuals can turn in an absentee ballot on your behalf, otherwise they face a possible prison sentence and fines

LANSING — As the August primary and November general elections approach, Bridge Michigan is inviting readers to ask questions that we promptly answer though the Elections FAQ feature of our Voter Guide

You can ask a question here.

Our latest reader question: What cities allow unmonitored drop boxes for ballots, and what cities have no restrictions on how many ballots a person can turn in for another?

Rules for absentee drop boxes — where voters can return absentee ballots rather than mailing them — are governed by state law, meaning cities and other local municipalities cannot simply make their own rules. 

Absentee voting has become popular in Michigan, where voters in 2020 and 2022 approved a pair of constitutional amendments to ease and expand it.

Absentee ballot drop box rules

Under current state law, every municipality must have at least one absentee ballot drop box, and larger municipalities must have one for every 15,000 registered voters.

Drop boxes must be accessible 24-hours a day, every day, for the 40 days before Election Day. They must also be accessible until 8 p.m. on Election Day. For a list of all absentee ballot drop boxes in Michigan, click here.

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Michigan law holds that only members of your immediate family — including in-laws, grandparents, grandchildren or an individual residing in your household — may return a ballot on your behalf. 

If anyone other than those individuals possess or deliver your ballot, regardless of whether or not it’s filled out, that is a felony punishable by up to four years in prison, a maximum $2,000 fine, or both.

This does not mean they can vote for you, as only you can legally fill out your own ballot. Individuals with disabilities, however, are entitled to accommodations. For more information, click here.

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Absentee ballot dropbox monitoring

As for monitoring, that’s a little more nuanced.

Municipalities must have video monitoring on their drop boxes within 75 days of an election under a bipartisan law passed in 2020.

However, because video systems cost money and take time to install, municipalities have until 2026 to add them to older drop boxes installed before the 2020 law. New drop boxes automatically require video monitoring.

Some cities used COVID-19 dollars to buy video surveillance equipment in 2020, but how many have completed installations isn’t known.

Michigan law requires all ballot drop boxes to be “securely locked” and affixed to the ground or another stationary object. They must be designed to stop someone from removing any absentee ballots, or applications, when locked.

Only a city or township’s clerk, deputy clerk “or a sworn member of the clerk’s staff” can collect absentee ballots or applications from drop boxes under state law. Those same individuals can begin collecting materials from a ballot drop box 35 days ahead of an election.

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In the event a dropbox does not have a camera monitoring system, clerks, deputy clerks or a sworn staff member must still regularly inspect every ballot drop box used within their city or township’s jurisdiction for the 75 days prior to an election to ensure it complies with state law.

Except for absent voter ballot drop boxes located at a city or township clerk's office, or in an official satellite office, clerks must document each time absent voter ballot applications and absent voter ballot return envelopes are collected from an absent voter ballot drop box in that city or township. 

Clerks keep that information, which includes collection dates and drop box locations, for at least 22 months following the election. 

Read other Bridge Election FAQs here, to learn more about candidates, ballot proposals and voting rules. Ask your own question here.

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