Team Ferguson helping students with new easier ways to register to vote

Michigan has updated important voter registration rules for First District college students for November 2020.

Michigan College Students Have Choices Where to Vote

Michigan students who are citizens can vote at their campus address or from their hometown address. The option of voting at a campus address is available for not only Michigan students from other towns but also for out-of-state students. Michigan’s legal definition of “residency” for voting purpose is easy for college students to satisfy: it is “that place at which the person habitually sleeps and has a regular place of lodging.” See Michigan Compiled Law (MCL) 168.11(1).

When a MI resident’s voting address differs from a drivers license address, the Michigan Secretary of State (SOS) will send a change of address sticker to the person to be placed on her or his MI drivers license. Also, for persons with a MI drivers license, both registering to vote and obtaining an absentee ballot can be done online at subject to deadlines described below.

For many students, voting locally at his or her college town in Michigan is easier than requesting and mailing back an absentee ballot to a distant place. Whether voting from a campus address or a hometown, voting safely from one’s place of residence with an absentee ballot should be considered due to the COVID-19 pandemic

College Registration is required by Federal Education Law

Federal law requires Michigan universities to distribute voter registration forms to their students. See federal Higher Education Act (Section 487(a)(23)).

Registration on or before October 19th is easier

On or before Mon. Oct. 19, 2020, a person can register to vote or update a registration address without the need to appear in person at the local clerk’s office or SOS office or show any proof of residency. This means that on or before Mon. Oct. 19, 2020, in addition to a personal visit to the local clerk’s office, a person can register or update:

  1. online at the SOS website

  2. by mailing a signed paper form to the local clerk

  3. by delivering a signed paper form into the drop box of the local clerk

However, online registration is only available for persons holding a MI drivers license or ID card via the SOS website at If a student misses the Mon. Oct. 19, 2020 deadline, they can still register but must register in person at the clerk’s office (in most places, with an online website appointment or by phone to the local clerk, due to COVID) and must offer proof of residency. Proof of residency can include a rent or utility bill.

If a student is from another Michigan town, the student will need to disclose his or her Michigan driver’s license number (DLN), personal ID no. or the last 4 digits of his or her social security number (SSN) on the application. If a student is from another state, the student must disclose the last 4 digits of her or his SSN instead of the student’s DLN. Everyone registering to vote needs to have resided at the place of voting for 30 days or more prior to November 3rd.

For Example: At Northern Michigan University, if you sleep in Marquette, you can vote in Marquette. NMU is helping students register to vote ahead of the election by proving their local residency. Three steps: Generate document, register, and vote. If your ID matches the name on the doc, and you show up to the polls or the City Clerk on or before Oct. 19, you can vote in Marquette. READ MORE

If you live in Northern’s residence halls or on-campus apartments, you have one additional proof of residency step in the voter registration process than those who do not live on campus. 

When you go to the City Clerk’s office or polling precinct to register for voting, you will need to present a one-page document called the Voter Address Verification form that provides official verification by Northern Michigan University of your on-campus address.

To access this document, you can go directly to or you can log into MyNMU and click the following:

  • “Student Services” Tab

  • “Main Menu” link under Student Services

  • “Personal Information” Link

  • “Voter Address Verification”

This link will provide verification of the local and permanent address for any NMU student.

Registration and early voting between Tues. Oct. 20 and Tues. Nov. 3

Michigan’s new election law provides for the right to register and vote up to and including 8pm on Tues. Nov. 3 [1]. However, from Tues. Oct 20 through 8pm on Tues. Nov. 3, voter registration may not be accomplished online, via mail or delivery to the clerk’s drop box. Instead, a student must personally visit the clerk’s office to register (in most places with an appointment due to COVID) and may early vote an Absent Voter (AV) ballot in-person at the same time (one-stop shopping).

In Marquette, for example, appointments can be made online or call City Clerk (906) 225-8667. Also, the student must provide adequate proof of residency at the campus address. (Use this.)


Unfortunately, a student’s drivers license which lists an address different from the campus address will not suffice [2]. Instead, Michigan law allows the student to provide any one of the following documents which must contain the student’s name and campus address: a current utility bill, a current bank statement, a current paycheck or government check or “other government document” [3].

Early Voting with Absent Voter Ballots started Mon. Sept. 21.

Michigan’s new election law gives all registered voters, including students, the right to vote by AV ballot without the need to give a reason. Michigan voters have options in how to apply for an AV ballot and how the ballot is processed. The first option to vote early via an AV ballot is to receive a mailed AV ballot from the clerk and safely vote and return the ballot from home. The second option is to personally vote the AV ballot at the clerk’s office before close of business on November 2nd and register at the same time if needed (one-stop shopping).

How to Apply for a mail-in AV ballot

If a student has a MI drivers license or ID, the easiest way to apply for a mail-in AV ballot is to go online at the SOS website at You may also download a paper application from the same SOS website, sign it and email, mail or deliver it to the clerk’s drop box.

Due to the real possibility of a U.S. Post Office slow-down in November and administrative delays with clerks, it is recommended to make an online SOS or an email clerk request for a mailed AV ballot by Sun. Oct. 11 and thereafter make the request in person at the clerk’s office.

How to return an AV ballot: Beware of common mistakes

AV ballots may be available as early as Thurs. Sept. 24. Completed AV ballots must be received at the clerk’s office no later than 8 PM on Tues. Nov. 3 (Election Day) via mail or personal delivery to the clerk’s office. If a mail-in AV voter makes a mistake, her or his ballot will not be counted. Common mistakes include the wrong postage on the ballot envelope, failing to sign the back of the ballot envelope, and signing the voter’s name differently than on the voter registration card. Also, the AV ballot will not be counted if the ballot is received at the clerk’s office after 8pm on November 3rd even if the ballot is postmarked on or before November 3rd.

Due to possible U.S. Post Office slow-down, it is recommended to deliver the completed AV ballot to the Clerk’s office or an available drop box rather than mail it. The Marquette City Clerk may offer a satellite office or drop box on NMU campus. Due to the risk of mistake, it is advisable to check on the status of an AV ballot by going online at: and if your ballot is spoiled or lost call or visit your local clerk.

Remember, you can email other forms to the clerk’s office, but you cannot email a copy of your ballot—your vote will not count if you do so. The physical, signed ballot must be at the clerk’s office no later than 8pm on November 3rd.

Consider early in-person voting an AV ballot at Clerk’s office

To avoid the complications of getting an AV ballot mailed to you and returning it on time, consider voting an AV ballot in-person at the college town clerk’s office. (go online or call for an appointment). If a student is not yet registered to vote or is registered elsewhere, the student can also vote an AV ballot at the college town clerk’s office by registering to vote at the same time. This same option of registration and voting an AV ballot is available to a student whose right to vote is at risk because of a problem with the AV ballot process from his or her hometown outside of his or her college town. Some clerks offices will be open on Sat. Oct. 31 from 8 AM - 4 PM to handle registration and AV in-person voting, but check with your local clerk. Remember to bring proof of residency at the campus address.

Special Rules on Mon. Nov. 2 and Tues. Nov. 3

In Michigan, registered voters who want to request an AV ballot and vote the ballot in-person must do so no later than close of business on Mon. Nov. 2. They cannot request an AV ballot at the clerk’s office on Tues. Nov. 3 (Election Day). Instead, they must vote at their assigned polling place. However, on Tues. Nov. 3, Michigan does allow persons who are not registered to vote in a certain place to register and vote an absentee ballot in person at the local clerk’s office.

Did 18-20 year-olds always have the Right to Vote?

The answer is no. At the beginning of the Vietnam War, the voting age was 21. So, young Americans aged 18-20 who were old enough to be drafted to fight in the War could not vote for the leaders in Washington who sent them. On July 1, 1971, the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified to lower the voting age to 18. The youth of today should take their right to vote seriously as they recall the sacrifice made by those who lost their lives in this conflict.

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This article is adapted by a memo authored by Marquette attorney Robert Anderson of Marquette with advice from Professor Edie Goldenberg and Logan Woods, Ph.D. candidate of the University of Michigan Political Science Department, staff of the Michigan Secretary of State and Marquette City Clerk. Anderson serves on the Northern Michigan University Voter Friendly Campus Committee. He is a former adjunct law professor at NMU and Michigan Tech University and studies Spanish at NMU. His contact information is 906-373-6047.

1 See MCL 168.497(2) & 168.499e. | 2 The student’s college photo ID cannot prove residency if it does not list student’s college address. | 3 See MCL 168.497(3).

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