There are 30 drop boxes and 23 satellite voting offices located throughout the city. (BridgeDetroit photo by Katy Locker)

Nearly 1,500 Detroit voters had their ballots rejected in the August primary because the ballots came too late in the mail or had signature issues, according to an analysis of state data by the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. 

None of the Detroiters knew their ballots were rejected because the City Clerk didn’t notify them.

The ACLU corrected that oversight by reaching out to the 1,462 Detroiters whose votes got wasted. More importantly, a new state law mandates local clerks notify absentee voters if their ballots have some issue. 

The state law and the ACLU’s outreach are two examples of the widespread campaign going on to prepare for the Nov. 3 election that will see a record number of absentee voters. There’s also early signs of a large voter turnout. In Michigan, nearly 1 million voters have already turned in absentee ballots for the November election, according to the Michigan Secretary of State. More than 2.8 million state voters have requested absentee ballots. 

In Detroit, up to 200,000 voters may use some form of absentee ballot while an estimated 55,000 will vote in person on Nov. 3, said Daniel Baxter, an adviser to the Detroit Department of Elections. In the August primary, about 80,000 Detroiters used absentee ballots out of a total of 121,200 votes, according to city officials. As of the primary, Detroit had 485,821 registered voters.

The overwhelming majority of Detroit absentee votes in August that were rejected arrived in the  mail too late, said Sharon Dolente, Voting Rights Strategist for the ACLU Michigan. More than 1,000 Detroit absentee voters were not counted because they arrived too late, Dolente said. 

The second main reason for Detroit absentee ballots rejected in August was signature issues— either the signature didn’t match what was on file at the City Clerk’s office or the voter forgot to sign the ballot envelope, Dolente said. City Clerk officials told BridgeMichigan recently 46 absentee ballots were rejected due to signatures that couldn’t be verified.

The ACLU of Michigan looked at state voter data for the seven elections between November 2018 to the August primary. In total, it found 35,000 voters whose absentee ballots were rejected and were not notified by their local clerks. 

Ballots arriving late is the main reason for rejected absentee ballots in the past seven elections, Dolente said, who examined the state voter data. But the August primary saw a significant rise in the rate of late ballots compared to previous elections, according to the ACLU

“We definitely saw a big increase in the rate of lateness because of all the challenges and attacks on the postal service,” Dolente said. In Detroit, more than 300 absentee ballots were rejected in the March 2020 presidential primary election because they arrived too late in the mail, compared to the more than 1,000 ballots that came too late in August. 

“There were more ballots issued for the August election but not three times as many,” as the March election, Dolente said. 

Recent cuts in the U.S. Postal Service by the Trump administration has caused delays in all types of mail. Many view the cuts as a way to suppress absentee voting, particularly in cities with large Black and Latino populations. In Detroit, 459 voters who requested absentee ballots in the mail for the August primary never got them, according to the Secretary of State.

President Trump continues to falsely assert absentee ballots will lead to widespread fraud.

Detroit and Michigan have enacted big changes to make absentee voters easier for the November election.

Last week, the city opened 23 satellite voting offices and 30 ballot “drop boxes”, which  is an unprecedented effort to encourage early voting. The satellite voting offices are where residents can vote early, register to vote or pick up an absentee ballot. At each satellite voting location, there’s an outdoor ballot drop box, which resembles industrial-strength mailboxes, where voters can put in their ballots. The satellite voting offices and the drop boxes means the city won’t have to depend on the U.S. Post Office to deliver the ballots on time.

“COVID-19 and the pandemic compelled more voters to cast an absentee ballot simply because people want to be safe,” said Detroit election official Baxter, during a Monday online forum sponsored by the Detroit chapter of the National Association for Black Journalists. “As you know, we lost a lot of people as a result of that,” referring to the coronavirus.

Here’s a link to the locations of all the satellite voting offices and drop boxes. Beyond the satellite offices, there’s another seven spots in the city with drop boxes. 

MAP: Where Detroiters can vote early (Courtesy photo City of Detroit)

As of Oct. 12, 34,375 Detroit voters have already turned in absentee ballots, according to the Michigan Secretary of State. There’s likely plenty more on the way; 142,622 Detroiters have requested absentee ballots and 132,879 have been sent to residents, according to the Secretary of the State.

In Michigan, more than 1 million residents have turned in ballots and 2.8 million have requested them for the November election, according to the Secretary of State. 

Dwight Hughes, 48, was among those who used the ballot drop box at Detroit’s Northwest Activities Center last week.  It was the first time he voted early, he said. He wanted to avoid Election Day lines because of COVID-19 but also is weary of potential disruption by conservatives and Trump.

“To me, what Trump is doing to the post office is about trying to stop the Black vote. I want to vote early to cut down on the chances of any disruption,” Hughes said.

Michigan voters can check on the status of their ballot through the Michigan Voter Information Center. Here’s the link.

Sign. Drop. And track your vote.

Officials say there are three steps voters can take to ensure their ballots are counted in November:

  • Sign the back of the return envelope where indicated.
  • Sign using your official signature. Election officials compare the signature on the envelope to the signature on record to verify that it is you submitting your ballot.

Return your absentee ballot as soon as possible. You can drop it off at your city/township clerk’s office or secure drop box. If you decide to mail it back, put it in the mail by Oct. 20 to ensure it arrives in time. 

If voters are contacted by the clerk’s office because of an issue with their submitted ballot, they will be able to visit their clerk’s office to address the issue and to ensure their vote is counted.

If voters have questions or need assistance, the coalition has set up an election protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE/ 866-687-8683. It is staffed by legal professionals from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and on weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Michigan voters can check on the status of their ballot through the Michigan Voter Information Center. Here’s the link.

Your completed absentee ballot must be received by the City Clerk by 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3. 

Officials recommend that Tuesday, Oct. 20 is the last day to mail an absentee ballot. After that, turn in your ballot at one of the satellite voting offices or drop boxes.

Louis Aguilar is BridgeDetroit’s senior reporter. He covered business and development for the Detroit News, and is a former reporter for the Washington Post.

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