As the Aug. 5 primary election barrels down on us, most observers are bracing for another disappointingly low turnout. While there are a number of important issues on the ballot and some heated primary races that will hopefully get people to participate, we need to take this opportunity to ask: If people don’t vote, is it their fault or ours?
For years, Michigan has been quite successful at having relatively high voter registration, and yet in primary and even general elections in non-presidential years, our voter turnout has been lackluster. There could be a number of reasons for this, including general disgust with the tone of politics, less of a belief that a vote matters, or the fact many families have a number of other obligations competing for their attention.
Unfortunately, I believe Michigan lawmakers have not done enough to address policies that could help at least reduce challenges some voters may have in casting their vote. Democrats have offered proposals for years that would change this, including no-reason absentee voting , early voting, Election Day leave, online registration and broadening the acceptable forms of voter ID, among others. Despite several Republicans – including Gov. Rick Snyder and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson – claiming they are in favor of some of these reforms, there has been no movement in the legislature.
Following last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision to gut the Voting Rights Act, dozens of states have passed laws to make it more difficult to vote. Michigan should go in the opposite direction and consider a series of bills to tear down barriers and increase voting access.
Nearly 30 states allow busy workers to arrange leave time with their employers so they can be sure to cast a ballot. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 33 states allow early voting and 27 allow absentee voting for any qualified voter without an excuse. Why should Michigan voters be denied the same opportunity to make choices about what method of votes works for them that so many other voters have?
Political operatives and strategists spend a ton of time focused on who votes, how to get them to vote, and sadly, even in some cases how to discourage certain people from voting. Elected officials have a responsibility to make sure that the system is not stacked against anyone with barriers that - either intentionally or unintentionally - prevent them from making their vote count in our democracy. The reforms and ideas are out there, they are working in other places, and it’s time for us in Michigan to move past the rhetoric and start acting on making it easier to vote for everyone.