Attention absentee voters: Follow voting rules so your vote counts

Kent County’s Director of Elections offers valuable tips for absentee voters.

Kent County Director of Elections Susan deSteiguer has seen it all when it comes to spoiled ballots. “People often think that if they make a mistake, they can mark an ‘X’ through their vote and it won’t count. With the optical scan system we have in Michigan, that simply isn’t the case,” says deSteiguer. Other common mistakes made in general elections include trying to erase votes made with an ink pen, writing in a non-declared write-in candidate and voting for more candidates for one office than is allowed. The optical scan system picks up any kind of pen rest. Voters should fill in the ovals completely for their vote to be counted correctly.

If absentee voters make these mistakes, they usually go uncorrected. Election Day voters have the advantage of an election worker catching these mistakes before the ballot is official. This is why absentee voters tend to spoil their ballots at much higher rates than Election Day voters, according to deSteiguer.

These types of mistakes can make a big difference in election results. For example, for two offices in Kent County, recounts were requested after the August primary election as the vote count was within 16 votes for one position and only three votes for the other. As Director of Elections, deSteiguer oversaw the recount. “We had to spoil a very large number of absentee ballots in this primary election because people voted for more than one party. This could have made the difference in the final result. After the recount, one position won by 13 votes and the other by a single vote.”

Absentee voters need to know that if they have made a mistake on their ballot they have until 2:00 p.m. the Saturday prior to Election Day to request another ballot be mailed to them. For the upcoming Election Day on November 6, 2012, that date is Saturday, November 3. Information on how to correctly mark your ballot can be found here.

Absentee voters also have until the Saturday before Election Day to change their mind on their vote. Absentee voters who have already mailed in their ballot can call their City or Township Clerk and request their ballot be spoiled and another ballot be sent to them. Again, this request must be made by 2:00 p.m. the Saturday prior to Election Day.

This is not a common occurrence, but it was used frequently in the Grand Rapids House of Representatives August 2012 primary race for the 76th district. In this case, one declared write-in candidate filed very close to the Primary Election Day and several absentee voters had already cast their ballot. The City of Grand Rapids Clerk had several requests from these voters to spoil their ballots and have a new one mailed so they could vote for the declared write-in candidate.

Voting is an important part of the democratic process. Information on how to register to vote, requesting an absentee ballot, as well as information about candidates and the proposals appearing on the November ballot can be found on the Michigan Secretary of State’s web site. For those with disabilities, an AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminal is available at polling locations on Election Day. To view a video about how to use this system, scroll down to the bottom of the page using this link. You can also visit your City, Township or County Clerk’s office for this information.

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