Special requirements for first-time Michigan voters can limit options

The November 6 general election will be the first time many young voters will cast a ballot. College students who attend school away from home, and who registered to vote by mailing their application, must take extra steps if they plan to vote absentee.

Voting is a fundamental activity in the U.S. democracy, and many young voters are preparing to cast their first ballots in the 2012 General Election. Young voters, especially college students, in Michigan can ensure a successful first voting experience by registering to vote and by taking into consideration some special requirements that apply to first-time voters.

Oct. 9 is the last day to register for the Nov. 6 election. Michigan residents may choose to register to vote either by mail or “in person.” For first-time voters, the manner in which they register to vote has an effect on how they may vote. According to the Michigan Secretary of State website:

“Under Michigan law, if you register to vote by mail, you must appear in person to vote in the first election in which you wish to participate (this provision does not apply if you are over 60 years old, disabled or overseas voter).”

In Michigan, a voter’s official residency is the same as the address listed on their driver’s license or state issued ID card. As many college students use their parent’s home address as their primary residence, this can present a challenge for students who will not be able to travel “home” to vote in person on Tuesday, November 6. Voters who mailed in their application to register to vote, who wish to vote using an absentee ballot, may request an absent voter ballot in person from the clerk of the city or township where they are registered to vote. The voter must request the absent voter ballot no later than 2:00 p.m. the Saturday before the election. The completed absentee ballot must be returned to the clerk’s office no later than 8 p.m. on election day.

First-time voters may also register (or re-register) to vote by going “in-person” to any branch office of the Michigan Secretary of State, or by visiting the clerk’s office in the county, city or township of their primary residence (the address listed on their driver’s license or state ID card). By registering “in-person,” rather than by mailing their application, first-time voters can request an absentee ballot by completing an Absent Voter Ballot Application and mailing or delivering in-person the application to their local clerk’s office. Pre-printed applications are available at local clerk’s offices. Requests for an absentee voter ballot to be mailed to a voter must be received by the voter’s clerk no later than 2 p.m. the Saturday before the election. After receiving the absentee voter ballot, the voter has until 8 p.m. on election day to complete the ballot and return it to the clerk’s office.

College students living away from home also can choose to vote “in-person” by registering to vote using the address where they live on campus or while attending college. A change of address can be handled through the county, city or township clerk’s office, at any Secretary of State branch office or by mail. According to the Secretary of State:

“Michigan voters must use the same residential address for voter registration and driver’s license purposes. Consequently, if you submit a driver’s license address change, it will be applied to your voter registration. Similarly, if you submit a voter registration address change, it will be applied to your driver’s license.”

Changing your address should be done at least 30 days before the election to ensure that the clerk has enough time to process your updated voter registration information before the day of the election.

In order to ensure a good experience at the polls, first-time voters in Michigan should plan on providing an acceptable photo ID (Michigan driver’s license or ID Card) upon arriving at the polling place. Voters who do not have an acceptable picture ID, or who forget to bring it to the polling location are still allowed to vote by signing an affidavit stating that they are not in possession of a photo ID. Voters will also want to make sure that they do not wear any election-related clothing, pins or stickers to the polls. These items are not allowed in polling places or within 100 feet of an entrance to a polling place and voters may be asked to remove any election-related materials by a poll worker.

By understanding these voter registration requirements and voting laws and procedures, first-time Michigan voters will ensure that they are able to successfully vote in the 2012 Presidential Election and fulfill their civic duties as citizens of Michigan and the United States. Voters who would like more information should contact their local clerk’s office, or visit the Michigan Secretary of State Voter Information Center website.

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