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Opinion | Michigan, what are we waiting for? Vote by mail is next logical step

Lavora Barnes

Nobody should be forced to choose between their health and their right to vote. Republicans forced that choice on Wisconsin voters, and now they’re going after the rest of the country.

In 2018, voting rights in Michigan had a big win.  By changing the election laws so that we would have same day voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting, we increased access for voters. These changes have proven to be successful.    

The next logical step is an entire election by mail. 

Voting by mail is safe, secure and accessible. It allows more voters to participate in our democracy, and it’s a commonsense way to run an election, especially during a public health crisis.

We have a responsibility to increase access to elections, we also have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of voters, election workers, volunteers and our clerks.  

This isn’t a partisan issue.  This is a voter rights issue. Right now, we assume that people understand how to request an absentee ballot or that they know the timing in which they have to request one, or that they have the time on election day to stand in line for hours.  By making these assumptions we forget that real life is happening – that work sometimes runs long, or you have a family emergency, or you are simply too exhausted to make it to the polls on that first Tuesday of the first full week of November.  

And maybe more obvious than that, is that our ballots are long and complicated.  This is partly what causes the long lines on Election Day. There is a lot to read, a lot to remember, and a lot to absorb, while there is an entire line of people waiting behind you.  The pressure to move quickly is real. This often results in voters not filling out their entire ballot. Everyone loses when that happens. 

The solution is simple.  Mail a ballot to every registered voter in Michigan.  Give them the luxury of time, of sitting at their kitchen table, doing their research, talking to friends and family, and making purposeful, deliberate decisions about how they vote.  

The Michigan Democratic Party, our friends, and many organizations across this state will do our job of educating voters on how to vote by mail.  

The legislature needs to do their job.  They need to eliminate the current policy that doesn’t allow clerks to verify, sort, and organize absentee ballots prior to election day.  Let me be clear, I am not talking about allowing votes to be counted early. I simply want the clerks to be able to certify the ballots and prepare them to be fed into the machines and counted.  The Michigan Legislature needs to ensure that our clerks have everything they need to efficiently and accurately handle a vote by mail program.

Not only do the clerks need the right tools, so does the United States Postal Service.  It is also imperative that Congress equip the USPS with the necessary funding and tools to continue to serve us.  They are a critical link in our fair elections chain.  

The logical next step to increase voter accessibility in Michigan has always been to implement a vote by mail program.  In these unprecedented and unpredictable times, it is obvious that now is the time to act. Not only will we protect the health of voters and election workers, but we will permanently open the door to increasing voter engagement in Michigan.  Everyone wins when that happens. 

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