What happens to my Absentee Ballot on Election Day?
Absentee ballots follow a strict set of procedures in order to maintain voter privacy while ensuring the security of the election. Every ballot must be returned in a signed envelope, and that signature is verified against the voter's signature on file.
The ballot envelopes can be opened after 7am on Election Day. When election inspectors open the ballot envelopes, they first remove the ballot from the envelope while the ballot is still enclosed in a secrecy sleeve. The numbered ballot stubs are then removed from the ballots to keep each ballot anonymous. The ballots are then stacked and tabulated. The ballot envelopes and ballots are kept for 22 months after each federal election, and these documents can be used to make sure that the number of ballots cast match the number of voters in each precinct.
Absentee Ballot Lifecycle
How do I know my vote won't be tampered with or changed?
Absentee ballot envelopes are not opened until Election Day. The envelope is then opened on Election Day by members of the Absent Voter Counting Board, which is composed of a minimum of three workers who must be of differing political parties. The ballot is left in the secrecy envelope until it is tabulated.
Absent Voter Counting Boards are open to "poll challengers" from political parties or interest groups, who are able to independently view all activities of the Counting Board. Challengers are sequestered in the room with the Absent Voter Counting Board until after the polls have closed.
Can Absentee Ballots be run through the tabulator multiple times?
No. Absentee ballots are processed by bipartisan teams of election inspectors. These teams ensure that ballots are only tabulated once. Additionally, the County Board of Canvassers verifies the number of ballots cast equals the number of voters that requested a ballot to ensure no absentee ballot was scanned and counted multiple times.
If the machine indicates that there is an error on a ballot, both a Republican and Democratic election inspector must review the ballot together to identify the error. If a ballot is torn, or otherwise cannot be read through a voting machine, a Democratic and Republican election inspector must duplicate this ballot onto a ballot that will be read by the ballot tabulator. In this process, the original ballot is kept so that it can be compared to the duplicated ballot during the post-election audit process.
What prevents someone from voting in-person on Election Day and Absentee before the election?
Any request for an absentee ballot is marked in the voter’s file in the Qualified Voter File. On Election Day, any request for a ballot at the precinct is checked in the Poll Book. Data from the Poll Book comes from the Qualified Voter File. If a voter has already requested an absentee ballot, but has not voted the ballot, they must surrender the ballot at the precinct. If the ballot has been lost or destroyed, the voter will have to complete an affidavit at the polls in order to be issued a new ballot.
How do I know my deceased relative or friend’s name was not used to vote?
Local clerks regularly update their voter lists with local, state and federal data. Clerks have the authority to remove the voter from the voter rolls if they receive information that a voter has passed away, or should otherwise no longer be registered to vote in their community. Only registered voters will appear on an e-poll book and be allowed to cast a ballot. If a voter is still alive when they submit an absentee ballot, but passes away before Election Day, their vote will not be counted.
Another way to ensure that a deceased relative or friend’s name was not used is to check the voter list. Only names of registered voters who requested and received a ballot will appear on this list.
Why do we use paper ballots?
Every voter in Michigan marks their votes on a paper ballot. While there are some advantages to using ballot marking devices or other electronic devices, paper gives voters more and better options for casting their ballots securely. If there is any question about the accuracy of an election, we have a paper record that shows exactly which ballots were tabulated.
Paper ballots also allow local clerks more flexibility. Since we use the same paper ballots for absentee voters as we use in the precinct, clerks can more easily adjust to changes in the rate of absentee or in person voting.
How do I know my specific ballot tabulated correctly?
All voters are issued a ballot with a specific number that is printed on the perforated stub on the top of the ballot. The ballot number is recorded on the voter’s application. By recording a ballot number on the application, clerks can ensure that each voter only receives one ballot and that only voters who return an application are issued a ballot. To protect a voter’s right to a secret ballot, the stub is removed from the ballot before it is inserted into the tabulator machine and mixed in with other paper ballots. After the stub is removed, there is no way to identify a specific ballot to a specific voter. For additional information about how we ensure that every ballot is tabulated accurately, see Tabulation Equipment.
What happens if my ballot is damaged in the mail, or can’t be read by the ballot tabulator?
On occasion, ballots are returned ripped, with coffee stains, or with other marks that prevent the ballot from being able to go through the tabulator machine. To allow this vote to be cast, election workers follow the ballot duplication process. In a bipartisan team, one Democratic and one Republican Election Inspector mark a new ballot with the exact same choices as the original ballot. The duplicate ballot is marked “duplicate” and the original ballot is marked “original”. During the audit process, original and duplicate ballots are reviewed to ensure the ballot was marked as the voter originally intended.
The only other time a worker may need to mark a ballot is during the challenged ballot process. If a ballot is challenged for any reason, workers will label that ballot with the ballot number and cover it with a sticky note. The voter will vote their ballot as normal, but the written ballot number allows the ballot to be identified and removed from the results should the Courts not allow the ballot to be counted.
Is Same-Day Registration secure?
Every voter has the right to register to vote on Election Day. In order to register to vote on Election Day, voters must go to their local city or township clerk's office. By going to the clerk's office, local clerks can verify a voter's information, and instantly update the state's Qualified Voter File to make sure that voters can only register once on Election Day. The state's voter database only allows voters to register at one location. Voters must also show a drivers' license or state ID in order to register to vote and receive a ballot on Election Day.
Why do I have to provide an ID or sign an affidavit before I can receive a ballot?
Michigan law requires all voters who vote in a precinct to show a photo ID if they have one with them, or sign an affidavit if they do not, in order to receive a ballot. Providing a drivers' license or state ID allows election inspectors to pull up your information more quickly and accurately. When your drivers' license is swiped at a precinct, the correct voter information is automatically populated in the laptop at the precinct. However, your ID does not need to be swiped in order to pull up your voter data. Election inspectors can simply start typing your last name into the poll book to pull up your voter record. Note: a photo ID is not required in order to cast a ballot, but you will have to sign an affidavit instead of presenting an ID if you do not have an ID with you.
Voters who receive an absentee ballot by mail must have registered to vote using a drivers' license or the last four digits of the social security number in order to receive a regular absentee ballot. These voters must also sign both an application and the ballot envelope, and these signatures are verified prior to the ballots being counted.
Are there any independent groups that oversee an election?
Precincts and Absent Voter Counting Boards are open to poll watchers and poll challengers. Poll watchers are members of the public who can stand in a designated area and watch the election. Poll challengers are appointed by political parties and interest groups. They independently view all election related activities and can challenge a process when they believe there is potential misconduct. While poll challengers are welcome to view the process for any election, there are many elections where no challengers are present. To ensure no misconduct happens, Michigan Election law requires at least one Democratic and one Republican Election Inspector to be present in each precinct.