The right to vote is the foundation of our Republic, a defining principle that sets our nation apart from other nations. I am proud to be elected to serve the citizens of the great state of Michigan.
Our vote is our voice, our sword and our shield, yet many of our citizens have difficulty exercising the right to vote in person. For many, life’s circumstances can, and do, conspire to defeat even the simplest of plans.
State law provides citizens with six options to legitimately apply for an absentee ballot, which includes expecting to be out of town. While the present system accommodates voters in some circumstances, it does not for others. For instance, why should our laws deny working parents and small business owners who are the fabric of our communities the same opportunities as would-be criminals? Why should someone tending to a sick relative, or welcoming a new baby – all unpredictable events – be denied their right to vote because of conflicting obligations?
House Bill 4724, introduced by Rep. Lisa Lyons, and Senate Bill 1114, introduced by Sen. Wayne Schmidt, would create a seventh path to absentee voting. Prior to the election, a lawfully registered and qualified person could apply for an absentee ballot with their local clerk, if they do so in person and subject to the same security and ID procedures that guard our process on Election Day. This requirement would apply each time the person desires to vote using this new path.
The time is right for secure absentee voting because Michigan’s plan to do so increases integrity and security. The legislation calls for the same identification requirements as on Election Day before voters may cast an absentee ballot.
One of the first things I did after taking office as secretary of state was to focus on cleaning up our Qualified Voter File of registered voters. In six years, we’ve removed the names of 889,000 people, including those who moved out of state, died or are noncitizens. This list is backed up daily and clerks have an additional paper backup on file for added security. We take the integrity of this list very seriously because on Election Day, its validity helps us protect the constitutional principle of one person, one vote.
In addition, unlike most other states, we conduct elections through a system known as “home rule,” where our 1,521 city and township clerks conduct the elections.
Thanks to the hard work of the local clerks, Michigan is rightly recognized as one of the top states for administration of elections and that is largely due to the series of checks and balances built into every turn of our processes. For instance, we’ve conducted 1,200 post-election audits since 2013 to ensure integrity. And for two weeks after every election, counties canvass results for each precinct, which is then confirmed by a bipartisan board.
It is important to note – even with this change – no vote is tabulated before Election Day. If a person votes absentee under the old reasons or using the new path and changes their mind, the ability to retrieve and spoil that absentee ballot would not change, still allowing them to re-cast their vote.
I strongly urge the Legislature to support these measures, to create a reasonable and secure absentee option for voters.