The Nov. 8 elections are more than a month away, and East Lansing City Clerk Jennifer Shuster’s office is busy preparing absentee ballots.
Shuster said she and her team expect about 12,000 absentee voters this year, an increasing demand spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Voters can fill out a ballot at home and deposit it at a local dropbox or with the clerk’s office, avoiding in-person polling locations.
“People had the opportunity during COVID … to avoid going in person to vote on Election Day,” Shuster said. “I think that allowed people to get a taste of what it was like to vote absentee, and I think that it caught on.”
In the past, voters were required to have a valid reason to vote absentee — such as a physical disability, age, or an inability to travel to their polling location. However, in 2018 the passage of a Michigan ballot proposal allowed for no-reason absentee voting.
Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said “having the pandemic in 2020 and since, people certainly embraced absentee voting because they didn’t want to swap germs with their neighbors while exercising the right to vote. … It’s more convenient, you can vote on your own time at your kitchen table in your pajamas.”
Byrum said voters also welcome the chance to research the candidates while filling out their ballots, giving them time to understand what they’re voting for. Shuster said many college students in East Lansing opt to vote in their hometown district by mail.
Shuster said “their local clerk back home … can mail them a ballot right here at campus, so they don’t have to make the trek back home to go vote on election day.”
Shuster recommends students mail their ballots back to their hometown clerk at least two weeks before Election Day, so mail processing won’t prevent their vote from being counted.
MSU student Anela Panlasigue voted by mail last year due to the pandemic, and she plans to do the same this year because of the difficulties of finding a time to travel home to Wayne County. “My home is an hour and a half away, I just don’t see it possible for me to make a trip in time for me to vote,” she said.
While distance is Panlasigue’s main motivation for voting by mail, she also said she feels like she understands the candidates and ballot initiatives of her county better than those in Ingham. Shuster said she has observed this trend among students.
“It was really simple,” Panlasigue said. “I just had to fill it out and mail it in. I couldn’t see a reason not to.”
Byrum said absentee ballots accounted for 66% of the votes cast in Ingham County in the August 2022 elections, and she expects this number to increase in November.