What You Need to Know Before Registering to Vote

Oakland County Clerk, Lisa R Brown, shares common misconceptions about heading to the polls
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Voter Registration
Photo: IStock

Every year, thousands of Americans realize that they are unable to vote because they missed voter registration deadlines or did not know they needed to update their registration. Since Proposal 3 passed in Michigan last year, there is no deadline to register to vote locally. Yet, while residents can do same-day registration, they may still have many questions.

For those who are navigating the process, Oakland County Clerk, Lisa R. Brown, notes that Michigan residents must meet the following requirements: Must be a U.S. citizen, must be 18 years old by Election Day, and must be a resident of the city or township where you are applying to register. Voting provides Michigan residents with a chance to voice their concerns and impact their community. “My staff will be present at Oakland Community College campuses this week in order to help new voters register,” Brown says. 

If you meet all of the requirements, the next step is filling out an application which can be found at the Secretary of State office or township clerk office. “When registering, you should bring your state-issued ID card (ex. Driver’s License),” Brown says. Voters without their driver’s license should be able to present the last four digits of their Social Security Number.

Applications can also be filled out online at michigan.gov/sos. These applications can be filled out and turned in in person at your local Secretary of State office or submitted via mail. If you are submitting your application by mail you may be required to send a photocopy of your driver’s license, personal ID Card, or a government document that lists both your name and address. Processing your application can take between two and five weeks. Once it is processed, you will receive your voter registration card.

If you know you won’t be able to make it to the polls on Election Day, you can still apply for an absentee ballot. Voters interested in applying for an absentee ballot can do so up until one day before Election Day if they are applying in person, and four days before election day if applying by mail. This is especially convenient for out-of-state college students and those unable to find transportation to the polls. However, ballot proposal 18-3 now allows all eligible and registered voters to receive an absentee ballot. Brown says that a very common misconception prevents people from applying for an absentee ballot. “I’ve had a lot of people say that they have heard that absentee ballots are only counted if the race is too close to call, that is simply not true.”

Applications for absentee can be sent via mail or email to your township or city clerk, as long as a signature is visible. Requests for absentee ballots are processed immediately. In the case of an emergency that will prevent voters from reaching the polls, an emergency absent voter ballot may be requested. More information about absentee ballots can be found at michigan.gov/sos.

When heading to the polls, planning is important. Brown recommends going at a time that will work for your schedule but being prepared to wait. “Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Typically, the busiest times are first thing in the morning and later in the evening.” Voters who do not bring their state ID to the polls will have to sign a detailed affidavit.  

 Altogether, Brown says that registering only takes a few minutes, but can make a large impact. “When debating registering to vote, think of the people before us who fought for women and people of color to have the right to vote,” Brown says. “We honor their struggle by engaging in the Democratic process. Every election and race is important.”


From The Archive: Voting, Circa 1837

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