Michigan local leaders expect mixed impacts from expanded voter registration and absentee voting reforms

July 2020

This report presents the experiences and opinions of Michigan’s local government clerks and other city and township leaders regarding three statewide voting and election reforms: 1) voter registration up to 15 days before an election via mail, online, and at a Secretary of State’s office; 2) in-person, same-day voter registration up to and including Election Day at a local clerk’s office, and; 3) no-excuse absentee voting. These findings are based on statewide surveys of local government leaders in the Spring 2020 wave of the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS), conducted between March 30 and June 1, 2020.

Key findings

  • Looking at three specific voting and election reforms approved through Proposal 3 on Michigan’s 2018 ballot, 60% of city and township officials say no-excuse absentee voting has had positive impacts on their administration of elections so far while 14% report negative impacts. In addition, 45% report positive impacts from allowing mail-in and online voter registration up to just 15 days before an election compared to 19% reporting negative impacts. However, 40% say that same-day voter registration up to and including election day at local clerks’ offices has had negative impacts overall, versus 33% who report positive impacts. 
  • Looking ahead to the November 2020 general election, local officials are more likely to expect these reforms to cause problems for their jurisdiction compared with their experiences so far, particularly in large communities. 
    •  In terms of no-excuse absentee voting, less than a quarter (23%) expect problems, though it should be noted that most completed the survey before Michigan’s Secretary of State announced absentee ballot applications would be mailed to all registered voters for the August and November 2020 elections. Concern increases to 32% among the state’s largest jurisdictions—those with more than 30,000 residents.
    • When it comes to shifting the mail-in voter registration deadline from 30 days to 15 days before an election, only 27% predict this will be somewhat of a problem or a significant problem, although this includes 45% in larger jurisdictions.
    • Local leaders’ greatest concerns for November are with the impact of in-person same-day voter registration, for which a majority (55%) expect problems. In the largest jurisdictions this rises to 75%, yet even in the smallest jurisdictions, almost half (47%) of local officials predict problems with same-day registration in November.
  • There are differences in concerns about the November 2020 election among city and township clerks (who are responsible for administering elections) compared to each other and to other city and township officials.
    • City clerks are more concerned about the changes to voter registration deadlines compared to their township counterparts, while township clerks are more likely than city clerks to expect problems from no-excuse absentee voting.
    • For both cities and townships, clerks are less likely to expect problems with no-excuse absentee voting compared to other local officials such as city mayors and administrators or township supervisors.
    • Local officials are particularly concerned about staffing and workload issues regarding these reforms. However, they see benefits from increased ease of voting and voter turnout. They also expect both benefits and challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.