Forget to vote? Time to join the early voting movement


I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but I forgot to vote last week. It completely slipped my mind. How is this possible? I write about elections for a living. I’ve spent the last two weeks working around the clock editing an election guide for MIRS on state-level political candidates. It’s my job to tell people an election is taking place, so how could I, of all people, forget to vote? I wanted to vote for some specific people for the Lansing Charter Revision Commission, too. Darn it. We’re all human. We all have lives, families, responsibilities. People with clearer heads than mine are clearly way ahead of me on this. They’re already on the permanent absentee ballot list. Lansing Clerk Chris Swope sent me a card about this in the mail. I recycled it. I’ve liked waiting until Election Day to take off my reporter hat and put on my voter hat. It’s cleaner that way. As it turns out, I’m the exception. If I’d shown up May 7, it would have been me and a few bored retirees at the Letts Community Center. Everybody is voting absentee these days.

In Ingham County, 88% of voters cast their ballots by mail or used an early ballot drop-off site for last week’s election. That’s nearly nine out of every 10 Ingham County voters. In May 2016, only eight years ago, just 2.5% of Ingham County residents voted absentee. Ingham County wasn’t an outlier on this. Some Wayne County districts reported the same thing. In the South Redford School District, 93.7% of voters chose absentee voting. In Lincoln Park, it was 93.2%; Trenton, 72.8%. Elsewhere, the numbers weren’t as high, but the trend is there. In the Plainwell School District (Kalamazoo County), 70.3% voted early. In Napoleon Township (Jackson County), it was 68%. In Charlevoix and Emmet counties, 52% voted before May 7. As a society in a post-COVID world, we’ve become used to having stuff delivered to us. Groceries. Our Amazon packages. Why not our ballots? The state pays the postage. It’s easy. It saves time. You can fill it out as you’re researching the candidates at 10 p.m. over a beer, or at 5 a.m. over coffee. The dramatic collective change in voter habits has little to do with the nine mandatory days of early voting, either.

Only 0.3% of Ingham County voters took advantage of the nine days of early voting during the presidential primary. For the May election, 0.4% used it. That comes out to fewer than 100 voters going to the early polling sites. It makes sense in today’s world, I suppose. Why bother showing up somewhere to cast a ballot when you can stick in your mailbox? This is a massive change. I’m not talking about those election site workers and poll challengers doing more work on their crossword puzzles. Campaigns will need to adjust to the new voting habits. Those who do will win. Traditionally, the big push has been the week before an election. We’ve gotten used to get-out-the-vote drives in late July for the primary or late October. We’ve seen WILX or WLNS air nothing but political advertising right around Halloween. In today’s world, if a campaign waits that long to reach voters, it’s too late.

Clerks are required to get those absentee ballots out 45 days before an election. Ballots are landing in mailboxes in mid-June for the primary and mid-September for the general election. The video messaging starts in earnest for the primary as school is letting out. For the general election, there’s no August lull anymore. It starts the moment candidates find out they primary winners. Sophisticated campaigns already know who is on the permanent ballot list. Now, they need to mail everyone. Voters can be added to the permanent ballot list at any time. Given how I dropped the ball last week, that could very well be me, too.

(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS at


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