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Detroit voting guide: Everything to know about the...

Detroit voting guide: Everything to know about the election

Detroit voting guide.

UPDATE, Oct. 28: This guide was updated to include sections on transportation to the polls, Election Day voting options if you test positive for Covid, and rules about taking photos of your ballot.

UPDATE, Oct. 27: This guide was updated to include information about ongoing litigation surrounding Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s ban on open carry at the polls.

UPDATE, Oct. 22: This guide was updated with information about two lawsuits challenging the Secretary of State’s ban on open carry at the polls.

UPDATE, Oct. 20: This guide was updated to include law enforcement concern over whether a prohibition on open carry at the polls can be enforced. A section on what happens when a voter’s qualifications are challenged was also added.

UPDATE, Oct. 17: This guide was updated to reflect a state Court of Appeals ruling on Oct. 16 that states absentee ballots must arrive by Election Day and reversed an expansion to who may help a voter return their absentee ballot. See details at Will my absentee ballot be counted if it arrives in the mail after Election Day? and Who is allowed to return my absentee ballot? Sections have also been added on poll watchers, poll challengers and rules for guns at the polls


Detroit voters have more options than ever to cast their votes for the Nov. 3 general election — but those new choices mean new rules. We designed this Detroit voting guide to provide essential information and help answer all your questions about the polls and voting for this critical election, including voting absentee, tracking your ballot and staying safe when you go to the polls. 

Do you still have questions about voting in Detroit? Send them to Detour Detroit by filling out this quick form and we will work to get you answers. 

What’s in this guide

Key Detroit voting dates

Registering to vote

What is the deadline to register to vote?
Am I eligible to vote?
How do I see if I am registered to vote?
How do I register to vote before Oct. 20?
How do I register to vote from Oct. 20 to Nov. 3? 
Where is my clerk’s office?
Where do I register to vote if I am a student not living at home?
Can I register to vote without a photo ID or proof of citizenship?

Filling out your ballot

Where can I preview my ballot before I vote?
What’s on my ballot?
How do I fill out my ballot?
How do I vote a ‘straight party ticket,’ or for all candidates of one party? 

Voting early (absentee, by mail or ‘at home’)

Can I vote absentee? 
What is the difference between voting absentee, voting by mail and voting at home?
How do I request an absentee ballot, and what is the deadline?
How do I return my absentee ballot, and what is the deadline?
I have to sign my absentee ballot envelope, right?
Do I need a stamp if I return my absentee ballot by mail?
Will my absentee ballot be counted if it arrives in the mail after Election Day? 
Where are the satellite voting centers in Detroit, and how do I use them? 
How do I use a ballot drop box in Detroit?
Who is allowed to return my absentee ballot?
How can I track my absentee ballot?

Spoiling your ballot and absentee voting troubleshooting

What do I do if I already submitted my absentee ballot but want to change my vote? 
What if I received an absentee ballot but it has an error or I make a mistake?
What if I received my absentee ballot but would rather vote at the polls on Election Day? 
Can I still vote if I requested an absentee ballot but it never arrives? 
What if I returned my absentee ballot by mail but I’m worried it will not arrive in time?
Can I take a picture of my ballot?

Voting on Election Day

Can I still vote at the polls for this election? 
When are the polls open?
Where is my polling place? 
Where else can I vote on Election Day? 
What do I need to bring with me when I go to vote? Do I need a photo ID?
What if I make a mistake on my ballot when I’m voting at my polling place?
What if my polling place doesn’t have me on its list of registered voters?
What if I was planning to vote in person but I test positive for COVID-19?
How can I get to the polls on Election Day if I can’t drive myself?

COVID-19 concerns and voting

What can I do as a voter to limit my exposure to COVID-19 while voting? 
What are election officials doing to limit COVID-19 transmission risks this election season?

Voting rights and election integrity

What do I do if I have a problem voting? 
What is the election protection hotline?
What are poll challengers, and what are they allowed to do?
What are poll watchers, and what are they allowed to do? 
What happens if a poll challenger challenges my voting qualifications?
Can people bring guns to the polls?
Are Detroit’s ballot drop boxes secure?
There were many issues in the Detroit primary. What’s being done to ensure the integrity of the election?
Can I help?
I have more questions. Who should I ask?


Key Detroit voting dates

Oct. 19: Deadline to register to vote online or by mail. (You can still register in person until and on Election Day at your clerk’s office.)

Oct. 20: The recommended cutoff for returning your absentee ballot by mail — after this date, experts recommend returning your absentee ballot to a drop box or your clerk’s office.  

Nov. 2: The last date to request an absentee ballot.

Nov. 3: Election Day. Votes must be cast by 8 p.m.


Registering to vote

What is the deadline to register to vote?

You can register to vote through Nov. 3, Election Day. Starting Oct. 20, you must register in-person — online and mail-in registration is now closed.

Am I eligible to vote?

You can register and vote in Michigan if you are:

  • a U.S. citizen, 
  • you will have been a resident of a Michigan city or township for at least 30 days by Nov. 3, 
  • you will be 18 years old by Nov. 3 and 
  • you are not currently serving a sentence in jail or prison.

How do I see if I am registered to vote?

You can check your voter registration status on the Michigan Secretary of State Voter Information Center site. 

How do I register to vote before Oct. 20?

The window for online and mail-in voter registration has closed. You must now register in-person. See “How do I register to vote from Oct. 20 to Nov. 3” below for more information.

You can register to vote online at Michigan.gov/VoterRegistration. You can also register at a Secretary of State branch office, at your clerk’s office or at any state agency that provides public assistance or services to people with disabilities or through a voter registration card. 

In Detroit you can also register to vote (and then vote) at any of 23 satellite voting centers. Here’s a map of the satellite voting center locations and more info

You can also print a voter registration application and mail it or deliver it to your clerk. It must be postmarked by Oct. 19. 

How do I register to vote from Oct. 20 to Nov. 3? 

Starting Oct. 20, you must register in-person at your clerk’s office or, in Detroit, at a satellite voting center.

You must provide proof of residency, which is a document with your name and current address. Paper or electronic documents are acceptable. Accepted proof of residency documents include: 

  • a Michigan driver’s license or state ID card, 
  • a utility bill, a bank statement, 
  • a paycheck, 
  • a government check or 
  • any other government document.

You will receive a receipt of your voter registration. If you don’t immediately vote when you register, as is most common when registering in person after Oct. 19., you should bring your receipt with you when you go to vote.

Where is my clerk’s office?

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey’s office is located at 2978 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit, 48235. The phone number is (313) 224-3260.

Hours: Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Outside of Detroit, find your clerk’s office location and contact information by entering your address here

Where do I register to vote if I am a student not living at home?

If you are a Michigan student attending school in the state, you can register to vote at your home or school address. If you are from Michigan but attending school out-of-state, you can still register at your home address in Michigan. If you are from a different state and attending school in Michigan, you are allowed to register at your school address in Michigan. 

Can I register to vote without a photo ID or proof of citizenship?

Yes, you can register to vote with a photo ID or proof of citizenship. You will be asked for a photo ID if you register in person, but if you don’t have one, you are allowed to register without it by signing a form. (You will still need another proof of residency as listed above.)


Filling out your ballot

Where can I preview my ballot before I vote? 

Detroit voters can see a preview of their ballot here. Any Michigan voter can enter their details on the Michigan Voter Information Center to see their own sample ballot.  

What’s on my ballot?

Here’s a breakdown of what’s on the Detroit ballot:

Partisan section

  • President & Vice President of the United States
  • United States Senator (see Detour’s coverage of the Senate race here)
  • Representative in Congress
  • Representative in State Legislature
  • Member of the State Board of Education
  • Regent of the University of Michigan
  • Trustee of Michigan State University
  • Governor of Wayne State University
  • Wayne County Prosecuting Attorney
  • Wayne County Sheriff
  • Wayne County Clerk
  • Wayne County Treasurer
  • Wayne County Register of Deeds
  • Wayne County Commissioner

Nonpartisan section

  • Justice of Michigan Supreme Court (see Detour’s coverage of the judicial races here)
  • Judge of Court of Appeals District 1, incumbent
  • Judge of Circuit Court, 3rd circuit, incumbent
  • Judge of Circuit Court, 3rd circuit, non-incumbent (see Detour’s coverage of the judicial races here)
  • Judge of Circuit Court, 3rd circuit, incumbent, partial term ending 1/1/23
  • Judge of Wayne County Probate Court, incumbent
  • Judge of District Court, 36th District, incumbent
  • Judge of District Court, 36th District, incumbent, partial term ending 1/1/23
  • Detroit Public Schools Board Member

Proposal Section

How do I fill out my ballot?

Make sure to fill out the front and back of your ballot. To make your selection, fill in the circle entirely without going outside the lines in blue or black ink. 

Make sure to select only as many options as the instructions say for each section — some races have multiple open positions, so you can select more than one candidate. For example, you can only select one presidential candidate, but you can vote for up to three candidates in the Detroit school board race. 

Your vote will still count if you picked fewer than the maximum number of selections allowed. (For example, if you only selected one or two candidates for the Detroit school board.) You can also skip individual races or sections of the ballot and the rest of your votes will still be counted. 

How do I vote a ‘straight party ticket,’ or for all candidates of one party? 

There are three sections of the ballot: partisan, nonpartisan and proposals. For the first section, you can select a political party to automatically vote for the candidates of that party in each of the partisan races. You can only select one party: Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, U.S. Taxpayers, Working Class, Green or Natural Law. Or, you can make your selections individually for each race in that section. 

In the nonpartisan section and proposal section, you will still need to make individual selections even if you choose to vote a straight party ticket. 


Voting early (absentee, by mail or ‘at home’)

Can I vote absentee? 

Yes, any registered Michigan voter can vote absentee. All Michigan voters now have the option to vote early, before Election Day. (Previously, you needed a reason to do so.)

What is the difference between voting absentee, voting by mail and voting at home?

Voting absentee, voting by mail and voting at home are different names for voting without physically going to the polls on Election Day. 

President Donald Trump has made a false distinction between absentee voting and mail-in voting, claiming with no evidence that the latter presents opportunities for widespread theft and fraud. He specifically criticized Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in September after errors were reported in ballots for some state voters who are overseas, but Benson said the mistakes were the result of “programmer error” and “computer glitch,” and were identified and addressed. 

Here’s more background from the National Conference of State Legislatures on why you may have seen different terminology like “mailed ballots,” “by-mail ballots” or “vote-by-mail ballots.” The Michigan Secretary of State’s office primarily uses the term “absentee ballot.” They also use “vote at home.” In Michigan and most states, any registered voter can vote absentee.

How do I request an absentee ballot, and what is the deadline?

Voting rights advocates urged voters to request their absentee ballots by mid-September if doing so by mail or online, but under state law, you technically have until 5 p.m., Oct. 30, for your clerk’s office to receive your request for a ballot to be mailed to you. However, with a concern over coronavirus-related mail delays, waiting that late puts you in danger of not receiving your ballot in time. You can request your absentee ballot online here.

Alternately, you can request and receive your absentee ballot in person at your clerk’s office or a satellite voting center in Detroit through 4 p.m., Nov. 2, then vote in the same visit. 

How do I return my absentee ballot, and what is the deadline?

Once you receive and fill out your absentee ballot, you have several options to return it. You can return your absentee ballot at a 24/7 ballot drop box in Detroit or to your clerk’s office through 8 p.m. on Election Day. 

You can also mail your ballot to your clerk’s office. Your absentee ballot includes a return envelope addressed to your clerk. Voting rights advocates recommend mailing your absentee ballot by Oct. 20 (now past). After that date, they advise returning your ballot by drop box or to your clerk’s office by hand to be sure it arrives on time. 

I have to sign my absentee ballot envelope, right?

Yes, you have to sign your absentee ballot envelope on the indicated line before you return it, and your clerk will review your signature to see if it matches the one they have on file. More than 800 absentee ballots in Michigan, including 46 in Detroit, were not counted in the Aug. 3 primary election due to signature mismatches. A new law signed in October now requires clerks to attempt to contact voters to correct signature errors before their ballots can be thrown out. Read more about how clerks match signatures. If you forgot to sign your ballot that you already returned, read what to do here

Do I need a stamp if I return my absentee ballot by mail?

It depends where you live. In Detroit, voters do not need a stamp for their absentee ballot if they are mailing it from within the United States. The Secretary of State set aside $2 million to reimburse clerks for postage. 

Will my absentee ballot be counted if it arrives in the mail after Election Day? 

No. Your ballot must arrive at your clerk’s office by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3 to be counted, no matter when it was sent or postmarked, according to a court ruling.

On Oct. 16, the state Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling that would have allowed ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 to be counted if they arrived up to two weeks after Election Day.

For voters, that means it’s even more crucial to make sure your ballot gets to your clerk in time. Officials recommend mailing it back by Oct. 20 (now past). After that date, return it in person to your clerk’s office or to a ballot drop box.    

Where are the satellite voting centers in Detroit, and how do I use them? 

There are 23 satellite voting centers in Detroit. If you are registered to vote in Detroit, you can vote early or on Election Day at any of the centers, no matter where in the city you live. At the satellite voting centers, you can register to vote, vote and return your absentee ballot. 

Satellite voting centers include the Department of Elections, recreation centers and other sites. They are open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. until Election Day. (The one exception is the satellite voting site at Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, which is closed on weekends, according to the voter education initiative DetroitVotes2020.com.) On Election Day, satellite voting centers are open the same hours as the polls, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Here is a map, which also shows drop boxes:

Map via the Detroit Elections Department. View it in your browser here, or see locations in a list here

How do I use a ballot drop box in Detroit?

Voters registered in Detroit can return their absentee ballot by placing it in a drop box. Drop boxes are open 24/7 until 8 p.m. on Election Day. There are 30 in Detroit (23 at the same sites as the satellite voting centers above, as well as seven more).

Find a ballot drop box in a city outside of Detroit by entering your address on the Michigan Voter Information Center portal’s clerk lookup — if your city has drop boxes, they should be listed under your clerk’s contact information.  

Who is allowed to return my absentee ballot?

Michigan election law allows absentee voters to seek assistance in returning their ballots from a mail-handler, their clerk, an assistant to the clerk, a person living in the household or a member of the immediate family. 

On Oct. 16, the state Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that would have expanded who can help absentee voters deliver their ballots, just between Oct. 30 and Nov. 3. That expansion has been reversed with the new court ruling.

How can I track my absentee ballot? 

You can track the status of your absentee ballot: whether your request has been received, whether your ballot has been mailed to you and finally whether your ballot has been received by your clerk. Track your ballot by entering your voter information at the Michigan Voter Information Center.   

Detroit voters can also use BallotTrax, a third-party tool that tracks ballots using USPS Intelligent Mail Barcode data combined with voter information provided by the city clerk. In theory, BallotTrax can provide additional information about your ballot’s status — including if it has been delivered to you or accepted by your clerk’s office. However, in the August primary — the first time the city offered the BallotTrax service — some voters found incomplete or inconsistent information via BallotTrax. If you have problems while using BallotTrax, please let us know


Spoiling your ballot and absentee voting troubleshooting 

What do I do if I already submitted my absentee ballot but want to change my vote? 

You go to the clerk’s office to sign a written request to spoil your first absentee ballot and request a new one until 10 a.m. on Nov. 2. 

You are allowed to make your request for a new ballot by mail, but the request must be received by the clerk by 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 31. You must sign your request and state whether you want your new absentee ballot mailed to you or if you will vote at the polls. Again, that deadline leaves little time to receive your new ballot — it is better to make the request as early as possible or in person at the clerk’s office if you are able to. 

What if I received an absentee ballot but it has an error or I make a mistake?

First, don’t throw it out. You can contact or go to the clerk’s office to spoil your first absentee ballot and request a new one until 4 p.m., Nov. 2. Save your original ballot and bring it with you if possible. You can also go to your polling place on Election Day and complete a form to vote — again, bring the original absentee ballot if possible. 

What if I received my absentee ballot but would rather vote at the polls on Election Day? 

Save your absentee ballot and bring it with you when you go to vote at your polling place and surrender it. You will then be issued a new ballot that you can use to vote. If you lose your absentee ballot, you can still vote at the polls and will have to sign a form. 

Can I still vote if I requested an absentee ballot but it never arrives? 

Yes. You can contact or go to your clerk’s office to cancel your first absentee ballot and request a new one until 4 p.m., Nov. 2. You can also go to your polling place on Election Day, tell a poll worker you didn’t receive your absentee ballot and then complete a form to vote. 

What if I returned my absentee ballot by mail but I’m worried it will not arrive in time? 

If you mailed your ballot you can track it at the state site (as well as with BallotTrax for Detroit voters). If it isn’t showing as received, you can go to your clerk’s office and ask to spoil your original absentee ballot, then be given a new one to vote. The deadline is 4 p.m. Nov. 2.

Can I take a picture of my ballot?

If you are voting absentee, you can take a photo of your ballot or a selfie of yourself with your ballot, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State told Detour. 
If you are voting at the polls or in a satellite vote center, you are only allowed to take a picture of your ballot. You are prohibited from taking a photo of anything except your ballot (that includes selfies!) in a voting booth or “anywhere within the area where people are voting.”


Voting on Election Day 

Can I still vote at the polls for this election? 

Yes, you can vote at the polls on Election Day, Nov. 3. While Detroit and Michigan officials are encouraging voters to take advantage of early voting options to reduce crowding, polling places will be open as usual.

When are the polls open?

The polls are open on Election Day, Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Where is my polling place? 

You can find your polling place by entering your personal information on the Michigan Voter Information Center site.  

The Detroit Elections Department has a full list of polling locations for the Nov. 3 election. The city also notes, as of Oct. 12, two polling place location changes from previous elections: 

The polling location for the Nov. 3 election for both Precinct 277 and Precinct 280 is Henry Ford High School, 20000 Evergreen, Detroit, MI 48219. Both precincts’ polling places were formerly Cambridge Towers, 19101 Evergreen, Detroit, MI 48219. 

Where else can I vote on Election Day? 

Detroit voters have several options to vote on Nov. 3. You can cast your ballot on Election Day at your polling place, at a satellite voting center, at the clerk’s office or from your vehicle in one location — New Providence Baptist Church in Detroit (18211 Plymouth Rd, Detroit, MI 48228) is hosting a drive-thru voting site. All locations are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

What do I need to bring with me when I go to vote? Do I need a photo ID?

If you have a photo ID and or your voter identification card, bring them with you. You will be asked to show a photo ID, but you are not required to have one. If you do not, you will be asked to sign an affidavit that will allow you to vote. 

If you registered to vote on or after Oct. 20, you will need to bring the receipt of your voter registration with you when you go to vote at the polls, according to the ACLU. 

If it’s your first time voting in Michigan, and you registered through the mail or a voter registration drive, you may need to show documentation when you go to vote at the polls. According to the ACLU, paper or electronic documents that you can bring include: a photo ID with your name and picture (regardless of the address or with no address), driver’s license or personal ID card from any state, high school or college ID, passport, military or government-issued photo ID or tribal ID. You can also use documents with your name and address, including a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck stub, government check or any other government document.

Voters are also encouraged to wear a face mask while voting, but are not required to. 

What if I make a mistake on my ballot when I’m voting at my polling place?

If you make a mistake on your ballot, ask for a new one. If the scanner rejects your ballot, ask for a new one. If the tabulator machine isn’t working, you can place your completed ballot into a bin in the tabulator machine. 

What if my polling place doesn’t have me on its list of registered voters?

You can show the receipt from when you registered to vote if you have it. Give a poll worker your address — they will be able to tell you if you’re at the right polling place. If you’re not, find your polling place here

If you are at the right polling place but they still don’t have you on file, you can still go register to vote at the clerk’s office

If you can’t go to the clerk’s office with the required proof of residency you need, you may be able to vote at your polling place with a provisional ballot, for which you’ll need to sign an affidavit affirming you believe you are already registered to vote. If you have a photo ID with your address, your ballot will be counted on Election Day, and if you don’t, it will be separated for review. You’ll have six days to go to the clerk’s office to prove you’re a registered voter. 

What if I was planning to vote in person but I test positive for COVID-19?

To avoid a situation where you are unexpectedly unable to vote, state and city officials recommend voting early or voting by absentee ballot.

If you were planning to vote at the polls but test positive for COVID-19 or feel sick, state guidelines recommend voting by emergency absentee ballot. Emergency ballots can be voted from anywhere, including from a hospital

Emergency ballots can only be requested starting at 5 p.m. on Oct. 30 and must be requested by 4 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

To obtain an emergency ballot you must have someone deliver your written request for the ballot to your clerk. You can authorize someone you know to deliver this by including a written authorization in your ballot request. You must sign the authorization. 

If you don’t have someone available to assist you, an election official can help. Detroit’s Department of Elections told Detour that officials are available to assist voters who need emergency absentee ballots. Contact your clerk for specific information about how you can request and return your ballot and who is available to help you. 

Emergency ballots, like normal ballots, must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

How can I get to the polls on Election Day if I can’t drive myself?

You are allowed to get a ride to the polls from an unpaid volunteer (that would include a friend or family member.)

You can also take public transit — because of COVID-19, SMART and DDOT buses are free. If you plan to take public transportation to your polling place or to your nearest drop box or satellite voting center, the Transit app can help you find the quickest route there. All buses require that you wear a mask.

Note that there are some changes to bus service due to COVID-19. You can check SMART bus changes here and DDOT changes here. The QLINE and People Mover are not currently operating. 

Some plans to provide voters with free and discounted rides to the polls have been put on pause by a federal appeals court decision which bans advocacy organizations from paying for voter transportation in Michigan. Deals offered by Uber, Lyft, the Detroit Bus Company, and others are affected

MoGo will still offer free rides on Nov. 3, the bike-sharing service confirmed to Detour. The “Roll to the Polls” deal can be activated on the Transit app or at any MoGo bike kiosk. It includes one hour of free service.

The Detroit Bus Company told Detour on Oct. 23 that they are working with the ACLU to find a way to continue their free service.


COVID-19 concerns and voting

What can I do as a voter to limit my exposure to COVID-19 while voting? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that “Elections with only in-person voting on a single day are higher risk for COVID-19 spread because there will be larger crowds and longer wait times.” CDC election guidance additionally notes that “lower risk election polling settings” include offering “a wide variety of voting options” and “longer voting periods (more days and/or more hours),” both things that the city of Detroit is doing. 

Detroit and the state encourage voters to take advantage of early voting in part to mitigate some COVID-19 risks. If you vote by mail or by returning your ballot to a drop box, you won’t have to come into contact with anyone. 

Voting at a satellite voting center ahead of the election also may mean you are exposed to fewer people. You can also vote at the drive-thru voting location on Election Day (New Providence Baptist Church, 18211 Plymouth Rd, Detroit, MI 48228) which will reduce your contact with other people.

If you are voting in person, the Brennan Center and the Infectious Diseases Society of America have several recommendations for steps you should take to limit risk for yourself and other voters:

  • Wear a mask to the voting location and while casting your ballot
  • Maintain social distancing of at least six feet from other voters and poll workers
  • Avoid bringing any unnecessary persons, such as children or other non-voting eligible family members, to the voting location

A public health order issued by the Detroit Health Department on Oct. 9 states that wearing a mask in public that covers your mouth and nose is not required for people voting at their polling place, but it is strongly encouraged. 

What are election officials doing to limit COVID-19 transmission risks this election season?

On Election Day, Detroit’s polling places will have personal protection equipment and temperature checks onsite. If voters have a fever, they will be separated and vote in a designated area. 


Voting rights and election integrity

What do I do if I have a problem voting? 

If you are having difficulty voting or someone is trying to intimidate or harass you, tell a poll worker. If they are the one causing the issue or can’t fix the problem, MichiganVoting.org advises to call your clerk. If that does not solve the problem, call the election protection hotline. 

What is the election protection hotline?

866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) is a national nonpartisan voter helpline administered by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. You can also access the hotline in other languages: 

You can also report absentee and in-person voting problems to ProPublica’s Electionland tipline. (Detour is an Electionland partner.) Sign up and share your election experience by texting the word VOTE, VOTA (for Spanish) or 投票 (for Chinese) to 81380. You can also go to m.me/electionland on Facebook Messenger, or complete the form here.

What are poll challengers, and what are they allowed to do?

A poll challenger is appointed by a political party or a qualified interest group to observe the election process. They may challenge the actions of election workers or the eligibility of a person to vote, but they must always do so through election workers; they are not allowed to talk directly to voters at the polls.

A poll challenger may challenge your eligibility to vote if they have “good reason to believe” that you are not a resident of the city or township where you are trying to vote, that you are not yet 18 years old, that you are not a U.S. citizen or that you have already voted by absentee ballot and are attempting to vote again. (Voter fraud through these or other channels is very rare, according to researchers.) A challenge to a person’s voting eligibility can’t be based on an “impression” like race, appearance or English-speaking ability. According to the Michigan Secretary of State, challenges are usually “based on research conducted before Election Day.”  

Challengers aren’t allowed to take any pictures in the polling location. They must have an official identification card from the party or organization that they represent, and they can be expelled from a polling place if election workers deem them “disorderly.”

What are poll watchers, and what are they allowed to do? 

A “poll watcher” is anyone who wishes to observe the election process but is not a qualified poll challenger. They have none of the powers of poll challengers and cannot challenge election workers or voters. They may not approach voters at the polls.

Groups like the Michigan Conservative Coalition’s Guard the Vote plan to send at least one poll watcher to each of Detroit’s absentee ballot counting boards on Election Day. The groups are focused on sending poll watchers to Democrat-leaning locales like Detroit and Flint amid an atmosphere in which Trump has told his supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully.

Other groups, including the ACLU and the NAACP, plan to send watchers to watch the watchers.

Federal law prohibits the intimidation of voters, which can be a form of voter suppression. If you experience aggressive questioning, harassment, or other intimidating behavior, seek help from election workers or call the election protection hotline.

What happens if a poll challenger challenges my voting qualifications?

In the unlikely event that your voting qualifications are challenged, a poll challenger must bring their challenge to the election workers at the precinct where you are attempting to vote. 

Depending on the kind of challenge, election workers might consult their voter records (to verify that you have not already voted by absentee ballot, for example) or they might ask you to answer questions about your voting eligibility under oath. These questions are limited to your residency, age and citizenship.

Challenged voters whose answers under oath prove that they are qualified to vote will be  allowed to vote with a “challenged ballot.” Challenged voters may not vote if they refuse to take the oath, refuse to answer questions or give answers that show they are not qualified. 

A “challenged ballot” looks exactly like a normal ballot and is filled out, processed and counted in the same way as a normal ballot. Election workers make a record of the challenge that includes your information and that of the challenger involved, and they mark the ballot number on the back of the ballot in case it needs to be retrieved. The ballot cannot be retrieved for inspection unless a court order is obtained, which has typically been extremely rare in Michigan, Washtenaw County Director of Elections Edward Golembiewski told Detour.

Can people bring guns to the polls?

For now the answer is yes, but that might change.

Voters and others are allowed to openly carry guns at the polls (and at early voting locations) with the exception of polling places located in churches and schools, where firearms are banned.

This comes after a Michigan Court of Claims judge struck down an Oct. 16 ban on openly carrying guns at or near the polls, which was issued by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Benson had also banned guns within 100 feet of polling places, absentee ballot counting locations and clerks offices on Election Day.

Benson and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel will appeal the decision. Confusion remains about whether the ban has any basis in law.

Are Detroit’s ballot drop boxes secure?

Ballot drop boxes are secured according to guidance from the Bureau of Elections, Michigan Secretary of State spokeswoman Tracy Wimmer told Detour. Those stipulations include securely bolting or locking drop boxes to the ground or other stationary objects, placing them in well-lit, public locations and monitoring as necessary. All Detroit boxes have video surveillance.

Drop boxes must be emptied daily at a minimum.

“Only the clerk, deputy clerk or an authorized assistant of the clerk can empty drop boxes,” Wimmer wrote in an email. “Any other staff coming into contact with the ballots will be trained on maintaining chain of custody.”

In Lansing, officials had issues with two drop boxes that were not locking and closing as expected. Those issues were identified and the boxes were closed for maintenance or resecured. 

There were many issues in the Detroit primary. What’s being done to ensure the integrity of the election?

In September, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced her office would partner with Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey to administer the general election after absentee ballot counting discrepancies in the August primary. The partnership includes hiring additional support staff, including Christopher Thomas, former Michigan Bureau of Elections Director, to serve as a senior advisor. The plan also calls for “revising protocols for ballot counting and sorting to make more effective use of high-speed scanners (tabulators) and reduce the potential for error.”

Officials plan to recruit and train at least 6,000 election workers, a big jump from the recruitment goal of 1,500 in the primary. 

Mayor Mike Duggan said in September that he would shut down most city government work for two days to put “all city employees at the city clerk’s disposal” to assist with ballot counting, a critical need with the record number of absentee ballots expected to be cast by voters. Companies including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Quicken Loans and others are also sending workers to assist the clerk’s office.  

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also signed legislation in October that gives clerks more time to process absentee ballots. In municipalities with more than 25,000 people, clerks are allowed to process ballots from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 2, an additional 10 hours for opening outer envelopes, checking for signatures and sorting. The legislation also allows for additional work shifts for counting ballots. 

Can I help? 

You can apply to be a poll worker, called an “election inspector,” to receive training and work the polls. You can apply to work the Detroit polls by filling out an application and submitting it at the Department of Elections. Or, you can apply with a form on the state’s website and select the county you would like to work in. 

I have more questions. Who should I ask? 

Detour Detroit wants to make sure you have all the information you need to vote safely and confidently. Fill out this quick form if you still have a question and we will work to answer it. 

You can also text DETVOTES to 73224 to access Outlier Media’s texting hotline with voting questions, and check out the Michigan Voting Know Your Rights guide.


Additional reporting from Maggie McMillin and Nina Misuraca Ignaczak.


Kate Abbey-Lambertz is the co-founder and editorial director for Detour Media. She leads editorial strategy for the signature Detour Detroit newsletter, The Blend and special projects, while shaping Detour’s membership program, audience development initiatives and design. Kate was previously a national reporter at HuffPost, where she covered equitable cities and urban issues. She launched HuffPost’s Detroit vertical, serving as reporter and editor, and has reported on Detroit for a decade. Follow her on Twitter: @kabbeyl

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