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Mail-in voting changes politics (a bit)

We were disappointed to learn from News staff writer Steve Schulwitz that only 17% of residents voted in the Alpena Municipal Council election last week.

As we’ve written before, local government affects the day-to-day lives of Americans more directly than any other local government, yet municipal elections persistently have the lowest turnout. Alpena’s turnout last week actually ranked pretty high, with some major cities posting turnout in the single-digit percentages.

That turnout has to change, and we urge city leaders across the region to do more to encourage more residents to turn out.

But another figure from Schulwitz’s recent reporting caught our eye: 58% of voters last week voted absentee. More than twice as many voters cast ballots through the mail last week than in the last Municipal Council election in 2019.

The popularity of mail-in voting changes the dynamics of elections, primarily because absentee voters can cast their ballots far earlier. For last week’s election, absentee ballots were available starting Sept. 23 — a full 40 days before Election Day.

That means candidates have to start knocking doors sooner. Groups that organize candidate forums and debates have to get those events on the calendar earlier. Newspapers have to profile candidates in earlier editions. And city clerks and other officials tasked with increasing turnout have to start their work sooner.

The end game and the mechanics of politicking stays the same, but the calendar has to shift so mail-in voters can learn as much as they can before casting their ballots.

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