Changing the Game: How No-Reason Absentee Voting Could Reshape the Political Landscape

In 2018, Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved Proposal 3, allowing absentee voting without any restrictions. As a result, any registered voter can join the permanent Absentee Voter list, which was once reserved for those 60 and older. This is a potential game-changer in terms of how campaigns target voters moving forward.  


For example, during the most recent election cycle, the Lansing City Clerk had poll workers distributing and collecting applications for voters to be added to the permanent absentee voter list. While this doesn’t mean voters will automatically get a ballot, they will automatically receive the application to receive a ballot.


Over the last several election cycles, those voters opting to vote absentee has been on the rise, accounting for 30% of the electorate. With the adoption of Proposal 3, that number could reach as much as 50% in the not too distant future as local municipalities are incentivized to educate voters on the process, which will help reduce stress for voters and staff on election night while also nominally increasing voter participation due to ease of use.


As the number of absentee voters increases, campaigns will need to prioritize these voters by frontloading their messaging to capture votes. Another benefit of capturing absentee voters early is shrinking the campaign’s voting universe, which will allow you to remove them from any further contact list while providing more resources to target election day voters. Campaigns are a tough business. There is no worse feeling for a candidate than turning out the votes and winning at the polls on election night only to lose at the wire because of a poor effort with absentee voters.


The good news is that there is plenty of data available to help identify likely absentee voters and those on the permanent absentee voter list. Investing in early targeted messaging across several platforms (mail, phones, digital, and doors) will likely be the difference between winning and losing for candidates across the state.


Of course, a byproduct of messaging earlier to voters means that the need to go negative will begin earlier in the cycle. The typical October “surprise” will become less common as campaigns adjust to the new reality of increased participation in early absentee voting. Traditionally, a candidate would want to build up her/his positives before going negative because history has shown that voters want a reason to support a candidate rather than a reason not to support their opponent.


As candidates consider jumping into the 2020 cycle, it is important to consider the changing landscape of absentee voting in Michigan and adapt appropriately.