A new absentee option will make voting process easier, but still secure

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.

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Fri, 12/09/2016 - 7:30pm
Why not have early voting like other states, that would probably meet the needs of many absentee voters as well.
Kevin Grand
Sat, 12/10/2016 - 7:45am
We can vote right now at least several weeks earlier in any election here in Michigan with an absentee ballot. I've voted AV several times in the past myself and contrary to the agitators (and unfortunately Sec. Johnson's statement above), there is absolutely problem whatsoever in obtaining one. What troubles me the most is that if people cannot (will not?) take the time to educate themselves regarding how to obtain an AV ballot, then exactly how will they even have a clue as to who or even what they will be voting on during that election?
Mark Grebner
Sun, 12/11/2016 - 2:02am
If you're already voting by absentee ballot, you must be checking one of the boxes on the form, which provide absentee ballots for people over the age of 60, or who expect to be out of town, or who are handicapped, or in jail but not serving a sentence, or working at the polls on election day, or a member of a church to whom election day is a holiday. If a person doesn't fall into any of those categories, either they can't get an absentee ballot, or they have to lie. Johnson's article would create an additional box to check - applying in person - but would not open up the system to allow everyone to apply by mail. I don't understand the point of your response. Do you mean that since YOU fall into one of the six groups that there's no reason to expand them? Or were you suggesting that absentee ballots are already freely available, because anybody who wants one is free to lie?
Kevin Grand
Sun, 12/11/2016 - 9:26am
No, what I'm saying is that I was expecting to be out of town during those times. I went to the local clerk, more often than not spent more time talking to them about local things than it took me to fill out the application and receive my ballot, filled everything out, handed back the envelope and called it a day. The process really isn't that difficult. The clerks were extremely helpful (and from my experiences with friends living in other parts of Michigan, they are no different). OABTW, no one has to lie go get an AV (a constant point you bring up). I noticed that you've "conveniently" left out the category where you can request an AV if you require assistance to vote.In this day and age of cell phones and internet access (or a good old fashioned land line or even the US Post Office), there is absolutely no reason for anyone who wants to vote should be prevented from doing so already. I've said this before and it bears mentioning again, if you're going to vote, you'll need to educate yourself. Elections aren't scheduled at the last minute but months in advance. Anyone who takes the time to find out not only who, but what is on the ballot, should already be aware of this.
Sun, 12/11/2016 - 9:02am
I am over 60 and can request a ballot be mailed to me. In fact, I can request one be sent for every election from now on. My question, when the ballot is returned how do they know I'm the one that actually completed it, and these were my wishes? I understand upwards of 20% of votes are absentee with lots of potential for tampering/fraud.
Sun, 12/11/2016 - 9:02pm
Your signature is on the envelope in which you return your ballot. The clerk's office compares that signature with your signature on file.
Stephen C Brown
Sun, 12/11/2016 - 10:22am
Indeed, why not just early voting? This would be a refreshing, non-partisan solution-either AV or early voting, if easier and cheaper mechanisms were simultaneously implemented for citizens to get the required ID. Many elderly, poor, or disabled citizens just do not have the resources to travel to a Secretary of State office, nor can afford the attendant fees. There are even cases where citizens raised in the Jim Crow South were denied documentation such as birth certificates, and now must go to court to establish their rights for voting, etc. Would the Secretary of State be willing to champion some meaningful effort to provide these citizens the time and resources to obtain their ID, then transportation to their Clerk's office to obtain and complete their ballot?
Kevin Grand
Sun, 12/11/2016 - 10:33am
I'd like to know exactly who these people are "without resources". Because these very same people also cannot buy a house (or rent an apartment), cash a check, open a bank account, board an airplane, enter federal buildings and a number of other things that are necessary in today's society which also require some form of ID.
Karen LaBarge
Thu, 12/15/2016 - 3:05pm

What about the home bound. They can't just go down to the clerks office to prove their identity and sign app This bill is short sighted. For every problem there is a solution that is simple and wrong.