Ballot drop box
Jan BenDor at the ballot drop box in Superior Township.

The Michigan Election Reform Alliance (MERA) is advocating for an increase in the number of ballot drop boxes available across the state before the official election day of Nov. 3.

With increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases and increasing complaints of mail delivery delays, a nonpartisan organization is working to make voting more convenient and comfortably accessible.

The Michigan Election Reform Alliance (MERA) is advocating for an increase in the number of ballot drop boxes available across the state before the official election day of Nov. 3. Members also are advocating for ways to make sure registered voters know about them and their locations in each voting jurisdiction.

Jan BenDor, statewide coordinator of MERA, is a former election administrator who became a voting rights activist after retirement and is leading her organization in anticipation of increasing numbers of absentee voters, resulting in part from the 2018 passage of state legislation permitting all registered voters the option of sending in their ballots.

Ballot Drop Box
Ballot Drop Box

“People involved in advocating for voter rights are very passionate,” said BenDor, who recalls participating in an archaeological trip to Israel where she learned about ancient voters using pebbles to cast their preferences. “We realize opening voting opportunities saves our democracy, and it isn’t easy.

“Drop boxes are among the most important issues in this year’s election because we have a perfect storm of problems. COVID-19 makes it risky for people to come to a polling place, both for the voters and the poll workers, and we hear about so many problems with the U.S. Postal Service.”

MERA members, active throughout the state, began their drop box efforts in March by conducting surveys of city and township clerks to determine the use of drop boxes in different voting jurisdictions. They wanted to know about the number of boxes, the capacity of each one, locations, availability for drive-up service, accessibility for people in wheelchairs and signage relevant to the boxes.

Brian Steinberg, who is leading the MERA drop box project, reminds voters they can access a state website to make sure their ballots have been received.

Brian Steinberg
Brian Steinberg in front of a ballot drop box.

“I wrote my first email about drop boxes the day after the Wisconsin primary election,” said Steinberg, raised in a Jewish household with a strong voting ethic. “It was peak COVID-19, and they were trying to find ways to get people to vote without going to the polls. I saw all those huge lines around the block with people wearing masks, and I didn’t want to see that happening in Michigan. I centered on drop boxes as a great solution for people who were going to vote absentee to vote safely [and get their votes counted].”

Although the MERA phone survey did not include all the voting jurisdictions in Michigan, members say they called enough to represent 65 percent of registered voters. They found that most city or township halls did have some sort of a drop box, although not necessarily exclusively for voting and not accessible 24/7. Drop boxes also could be used for matters involving other municipal services, such as paying water bills.

“MERA didn’t have an [intentionally] persuasive campaign,” Steinberg said. “We learned, as we were doing our survey, that just asking questions — about expected increases in absentee voting and whether they planned to expand or upgrade the capacity of drop boxes — a lot already had that on their minds, but I think our bringing it up especially early on started making people think [more] about the subject.

“As we talked to more clerks, especially in the larger jurisdictions, we talked about putting drop boxes offsite [and away from clerks’ offices]. It’s very easy to use city property for drop boxes, and fire stations are pretty secure by being staffed 24-7. That seems to be a go-to where some of these jurisdictions did it.”

Quick Pickup

An important part of using the drop boxes is that ballots are expected to be picked up and enter the clerk’s domain in less than 24 hours. Those mailing their ballots are being advised to post them three weeks ahead of Nov. 3.

Voters unable to go to polling sites or drop boxes only can ask close family members or those living at the same address to place signed and sealed ballots in drop boxes in the jurisdiction area of the person whose ballot is involved. Of course, there are no postage requirements when using drop boxes.

Right now, there are two current drop box initiatives being pursued by MERA. The first is hoping to convince clerks to include a sheet providing drop box location information as they send out each blank ballot although this information can be obtained with a phone call to each clerk’s office or a visit to Michigan.gov/Vote and clicking on the “Who is my clerk?” choice. Another initiative is identifying a Michigan metal fabricator who can make drop boxes that are becoming scarcer as more jurisdictions add them.

“It’s never been easier to vote in the state of Michigan than it will be this year,” Steinberg said. “I’d like to see a stronger voting ethic with more people voting.”

Absentee ballots were expected to be sent out at the end of September.

DROP BOX VOTING STEPS

  1. Request an absentee ballot from your city or township clerk.
  2. Identify the locations and accommodations of drop boxes in the jurisdiction where you vote, either by calling the office of your city or township clerk or going to Michigan.gov/Vote and clicking on the “Who is my clerk?” choice.
  3. Deposit the ballot as early as possible.

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