In a nutshell

  • Last November Michigan voters approved Proposal 3 to reform various voting rules
  • The Tuesday, May 7 election is the first after the new laws took effect
  • Voters can now register to vote on Election Day and no longer need an excuse to vote absentee

In the November 2018 general election, voters overwhelming adopted (69 percent said “yes”) Proposal 3, dubbed “Promote the Vote.” The constitutional amendment guarantees a number of rights to make voting easier and more accessible, which presumably would also increase participation. Today – , May 7 – is the first election held under these new provisions. The two major changes that voters should be aware of involve no-reason absentee voting and Election Day registration.

Let’s review what changed and how these new procedures will work for those planning to vote.

What’s on the ballot?

Voters across the state will go to the polls to decide on a variety of local issues, including everything from city charter revisions to tax questions. Over 500 jurisdictions, in 65 of 83 counties, will hold elections May 7. As is common for spring elections, school millage requests will rule the day, ranging from long-term borrowing requests to renewal of operating millages.  The Headlee Amendment to the state constitution requires voter approval to levy new taxes or increase existing ones.

No registration? No problem.  Election Day registration is here.

Under Michigan’s previous state law, voters had to be registered at least 30 days (either in person or by mail) in advance of Election Day to participate. Proposal 3 changed this deadline to 15 days if registering by mail (Michigan does not allow online voter registration).

More significantly, citizens can now register to vote in person any time before or on Election Day, with proof of residency. Michigan joined 17 other states and the District of Columbia in adopting same day/Election Day registration. Unregistered would-be voters will have to go to their city or township clerk’s office before 8 p.m. to participate. They will not be able to register at their polling location; election workers should inform folks if they can get to the clerk’s office they can still register and vote.

Same-day registration removes the traditional two-step process to voting (separate acts of registering and voting), effectively making voting more convenient.  Now, citizens can show up at their local clerk’s office, register, and receive a ballot the same day. This is a form of early voting, but a far cry from the mail-only voting practices used by Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. Early voting at

The same-day registration process has shown to increase voter turnout by three to seven percent. And it has not been shown to influence electoral outcomes in favor of one political party over the other. Given available research, the practice should improve Michiganders’ voting participation rates.  

No-reason absentee voting

Michigan joined 27 other states and the District of Columbia when it adopted no-reason absentee voting last fall. Previously, the option was limited to people that are 60 and older, disabled, or out of town on Election Day. Because Michigan does not allow online voting, absentee voting is conducted by mail-in paper ballot. Proposal 3 requires that these ballots to be available 40 days prior to an election and allows voters to return them until 8 p.m. on Election Day.

A new chapter

Many of Proposal 3’s reforms had been adopted in other states years ago. This includes such low-hanging fruit as no-reason absentee voting and same-day registration. By this measure, Michigan has been late to modernize its election procedures. Still, the May 7 election ushers in a new chapter in the state’s election history. Other, more controversial, provisions of Proposal 3, such as statewide post-election audits and straight-party voting, will come on line in the future. For now, let’s celebrate the state’s efforts to make it more convenient for citizens to participate in their democracy.

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