Michigan could lead on making voting easier, but no movement in Lansing

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.

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Mike R
Tue, 07/29/2014 - 10:18am
I'd wager that most of the Michigan electorate is with you, Mr. Ananich, but I would brace yourself from the inevitable claim from the usual characters on the right that easier, more inclusive voting will lead to voter fraud (despite the fact that there is absolutely NO evidence of any systemic, systematic, widespread, narrowspread, recurring, occasional, regular, or irregular voter fraud anywhere in this state or in nearly all other states). The fiction of voter fraud is the only tired defense those on the right can muster in their transparent, inexcusable, cowardly effort to make voting more difficult for those they perceive to be aligned against them (the logical extension of the embarrassing gerrymandering that has given control of the Legislature to the Republicans despite there being more Democrats in Michigan). I can only presume it their lack of meritorious ideas and inspired leadership that drives them to limit voting to their own kind.
Tue, 07/29/2014 - 11:03am
I'm really more libertarian than some sort of right winger. But I'll chime in quickly to note that voter fraud IS a problem. Further loosening registration and absentee ballots would do nothing more than create more opportunities for the most prevalent form of voter fraud. John Fund wrote a pretty good book on the subject a couple years back. Y'all might consider picking up a copy from the local library before making spurious claims about there being no evidence of voter fraud. Everyone has the right to vote...once. Every vote thereafter is a huge problem. Legislation that makes it easier for that one vote is a good idea. Legislation that enables votes in the latter category is unacceptable. Regards, Dann
Tue, 07/29/2014 - 2:05pm
Dann does not say what is "the most prevalent form of voter fraud". His mention of absentee ballots implies that may be what he considers most prevalent. Mike R is correct in saying that voter impersonation fraud is almost nonexistent, and sworn testimony by prosecutors in court case after case confirms that. See the Wisconsin decision for an example, where they could not produce even one instance at http://media.jrn.com/documents/adelmanorder.pdf Ballot stuffing using absentee ballots is sometimes a problem, but the most egregious is electronic manipulation of tabulator programs and transmission of results, which is a result of ineffective, outdated and incompetent administration of elections. As Joseph Stalin famously said, "the people who cast the votes do not decide an election, the people who count the votes do".
Tue, 07/29/2014 - 4:28pm
Hi Will, Actually, I did indicate the most popular form of voter fraud; absentee ballots. Let me rephrase: "Further loosening (of regulations regarding) registration and absentee ballots would do nothing more than create more opportunities for the most prevalent form of voter fraud." I would agree that voter fraud at a balloting location is less prevalent than fraud via absentee ballot. However, if you look at Milwaukee, WI returns in 2004, it is obvious that same day registration resulted in a ton of in-person fraudulent votes in that city. Enough to question whether John Kerry to carried Wisconsin, if you can believe the local government and newspaper investigations. I share the concern about ballot counting issues. Every step of the process needs to be made more secure. I even share concerns about governments that remove voters from voter rolls without properly vetting to ensure that the voters are no longer eligible to vote due to residency, death, or felony conviction. Felony convictions aren't an issue in Michigan, but they are an issue in other states. Again, I want everyone that wants to vote, to vote.....once. Most of the proposed legislation that I have seen tends to increase the possibility of voter fraud. And both Republicans and Democrats are already far too good at voter fraud for us to make it any easier for them. Regards, Dann
Craig O
Tue, 07/29/2014 - 11:10am
Mike R. is 100% correct! Sen. Ananich your continued fair minded and logical approach to many issues in our state is appreciated and applauded by myself and many others, especially educators in our public schools. It is so unfortunate that the general electorate does not involve themselves more in the "issues of the day" affecting our state & country. I do sir, appreciate your work in our behalf!! Your most recent article is right on!!!
Tue, 07/29/2014 - 11:36am
Why force Michigan voters to vote exclusively one party. This is not realistic in today's political system. Why don't we want to elect the best and most qualified person for the job. We did a poll in our large automotive office, overwhelmingly this was the opinion of most. This policy has deterred many from voting in the primary. Laura
Tue, 07/29/2014 - 2:20pm
I was quite surprised to see Sen. Ananich did not include the issue of straight-ticket primaries. Laura is correct, it is a deterrent to voting in primaries and may even be unconstitutional. If I think people from different parties are the best choices to fill different offices, isn't the straight-ticket requirement depriving me of the opportunity to vote for the candidates of my choice? Yes, voter fraud is a serious issue and needs to be addressed. However, eliminating the straight-ticket primaries would be a big step toward increasing voter turnout.
Tue, 07/29/2014 - 6:25pm
So... Sen.Ananich and his fellow Democrats are concerned that unless we reduce the effort and investment of voting to be less than that required to buy lottery tickets at the corner party store, his voters just won't bother wth it? Then you consider the costs of voting in Iraq or Afghanistan or many other nations. Interesting.
Ronald B
Mon, 08/04/2014 - 8:42am
Voting is worth the effort, if you don't think it is then stay home. We do not need to open the door for more fraud, even those here commenting in agreement with this idea of "no-reason absentee voting" admit there is some degree of voter fraud already ..... we should be tightening the system up not making it easier for fraud.
Tue, 08/05/2014 - 6:41pm
Voting straight ticket is like going to a buffet and saying you have to eat everything on the buffet or nothing at all. Straight ticket does nothing to assure us that the best and most qualified get elected. All or nothing is not a good choice. R.L.