Opinion | Now is not the time for sweeping changes in how Michigan votes

In the few short months before the 2020 presidential election, transforming our electoral system to accommodate a huge increase in mail voting puts our citizens’ votes at risk.

State Rep. Ann Bollin represents southeast Livingston County in the Michigan House

That’s not a message from political partisans. It’s the message from Washington’s Secretary of State, who has overseen all-mail elections for the entirety of her tenure.

 On June 29, NBC Nightly News featured Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman explaining the implications of expanding mail voting across the country. Secretary Wyman’s position is unique: she oversees elections in one of only five states that conduct their elections entirely by mail. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, some Michigan advocates for mail voting have pointed to Washington as exemplary. “Washington has been voting by mail for years,” they contend. “If they can do it, why can’t we?”

 Secretary Wyman’s warning is clear: It’s harder than it looks.

 Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson did not consider the immense work it takes to revolutionize an electoral system to accommodate a massive influx of mailed ballots. What Michigan is being pressured to accomplish in just a few short months took Washington decades to implement. Washington’s first mail elections were low-turnout special elections, via the passage of a 1983 law. Counties were allowed to switch entirely to vote-by-mail a full 12 years later, in 2005, and it was another six years before all-mail elections were codified statewide.

 That’s 28 years of honing the mail-in system before it was established across the state. Washington had almost three decades of experience in vote-by-mail elections before they were standard, and they started with localized special elections and slowly expanded outward. That timeline gave elections officials time to gather evidence, address issues, and increase capacity.

 Secretary Wyman understands the complexities of that process. Getting a vote-by-mail system right – building mechanisms to safeguard votes while enfranchising as many people as possible – requires time, planning, and financial resources.

 Her advice stands in contrast to Secretary Benson’s, who has advocated for as many people as possible to cast ballots by mail. In May, Secretary Benson unilaterally decided to send every name on the voter registration rolls an absentee ballot request form, despite concerns from local clerks that they could not keep up with the influx of request forms and ballots, and that voters who had died or moved remain on Michigan’s rolls.

 Local clerks weren’t given time to update the voter rolls, and Secretary Benson did not seem to have had a plan for how her office would handle the non-deliverable applications, which had a return address that sent them to the Secretary of State’s office.

 Michigan does not have the time, money, or personnel to safely and securely increase its mail voting capacity to the extent sought by Secretary Benson – especially by November. Our neighbors’ primary season was a grim foreshadowing of the thousands, if not millions, of voters who could be disenfranchised in November if we move too quickly to expand mail voting.

 In Pennsylvania’s June primary, elections officials saw a massive influx of mailed ballots. The Post Office and Elections Offices sagged under the weight of delivering request forms and ballots to an unprecedented number of voters. In fact, the administration was so strained that Gov. Tom Wolf issued an eleventh-hour executive order that extended the deadline for ballot acceptance by a week in six Pennsylvania counties. It did not inspire confidence in the results when Philadelphia had only counted 10 percent of the mailed ballots four days after the election.

 Ohio’s April 28 primary was conducted entirely by mail, with no in-person polling places. Both the Post Office and the Board of Elections were overwhelmed with the number of ballot request forms and ballots to be sent out and verified. Some voters reported never receiving their ballots at all, and turnout was uncommonly low for a presidential primary: only 20 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. That is 16 percentage points lower than the primary turnout in Wisconsin, which did not switch to an all-mail election for its April 7 primary.

 Michigan clerks were already preparing for an increase in mail-in or absentee voters due to the passage of Proposal 3. In May, we saw many of the checks and balances in Michigan election law dismissed through executive orders. We cannot allow COVID-19 and the underlying agendas of our top election officials to hijack Michigan elections. Maintaining the proper checks and balances within our existing electoral system is critical to ensuring voter confidence, as well as ensuring that Michigan voters are not disenfranchised by the inability of government agencies to keep up with a huge influx of mailed ballots.

 More than ever, we must support our local clerks in their efforts to run free, fair, secure, and safe elections. The best way to do that is to let them run the elections under Michigan election law – not executive orders. With only a few short months before a pivotal presidential election, now is not the time to make sweeping changes to Michigan elections.

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Comments

Concerned Citizen
Mon, 07/20/2020 - 7:21pm

The op-ed pointed out that our clerks were already preparing for increased absentee voting and people in MI have been voting this way for decades. We know that there will be a higher number than usual (no, COVID isn't going to disappear) so why not get ready for it? There is a high possibility that it wont be safe to go to the polls in Nov and its our right to vote - pandemic or not. I'm glad our governor understands the reality of the situation and doing the right thing.

Sean S.
Mon, 07/20/2020 - 8:25pm

"Hey, let's make 7 million voters go outside to a poorly ventilated series of overcrowded polling places most likely not properly decontaminated between usages, breathe in infected air and touch contaminated surfaces, and spread a deadly disease, killing unknown thousands of people for no reason! That's a great plan."
Literally just invest extra in election infrastructure like the governor has been asking for, and we'll not only be relatively well off, but prevent the spread of COVID-19. I don't know about you, but I'M not a fan of dying unnecessarily or killing somebody's grandma.

Michael
Mon, 07/20/2020 - 8:31pm

The amount of registered voters is almost the same amount as Michigans current population. Clearly that is impossible. Children cant vote and many Michiganians never register to vote so how is the amount of registered voters almost the same amount as Michigans population? Michigan is already going to have a huge amount of voter fraud. What will they do about it? I emailed the Michigan SOS suggesting they should do an audit on voter registrations before the election but of course I recieved no response.

Anonymous
Tue, 07/21/2020 - 11:25am

Michael, that's nothing but Trump conspiracy nonsense

Anonymous
Thu, 07/23/2020 - 8:10am

You offer no proof and no name. You have zero credibility.

Matt G
Tue, 07/21/2020 - 11:44am

Massive voter fraud is a myth perpetuated by the GOP.

Please post examples or stop posting nonsense. Everyone is tired of hearing the "oh no the sky is falling because it's getting easier to vote" nonsense. Everyone knows more voter turnout favors democratic candidates, so we have the GOP op-eds and commenters acting like it's too hard to have a mail in system. Just say the quiet part out loud like the president:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/03/30/trump-voting-republic...

You are wrong
Wed, 07/22/2020 - 9:14am

Voter fraud is a big issue and it has happened in Michigan. Look at the case if Sherikia Hawkins as a prime example of why mail in ballots are asking for fraud.
A secure election process would be one that requires photo voter ID and in person voter registration at least 90 days prior to an election.

Hazel Yarnevich
Tue, 07/21/2020 - 10:19am

Attention to all Michigan Mail-in Ballot Voters!
You are also allowed to RETURN your ballot to the CLERKS OFFICE by delivering it YOURSELF.
For instance, I can hand deliver my ballot to my local Township Clerk Office. There are very specific rules and laws to keep your ballot secure. Read all the fine print, posted on the signature required side of your return envelope.

pierredeboe
Tue, 07/21/2020 - 5:33pm

If not now, when?

middle of the mit
Tue, 07/21/2020 - 7:40pm

I fail to see how our voting system is being transformed. Haven't absentee ballots been in use for at least a few decades? Is this representative telling us that our snow birds and armed service members votes have been putting our elections at risk?

And now we are told by a Republican SOS in Washington State that Washington State can't do something that it has been doing for a decade? Well........we already did it this spring!

What is the problem? Seems the only problem is people that don't want vote by mail or no reason absentee ballots. Otherwise.........wouldn't it require less poll workers? Wouldn't it be easier and safer for everyone involved including the poll workers if there was mail in ballots?

Is the author telling us that MI poll workers are too stupid to do what they did this spring? Do our election workers need a 30 year learning curve, or do we have the benefit of hindsight with what other States have done?

What do you mean local clerks weren't given time to clear voting roles? Do you mean purge voters from the roles? Why do Republicans always wait until the last minute to purge the voting roles?

You have mentioned Philadelphia elections, but you forgot what happened in Wisconsin, where the Senate majority leader went out in Full PPE and told voters there was nothing to worry about. It's almost as if the author doesn't know that you don't have to vote by mail if you don't want to.

And I would like to know these checks and balances that the author thinks the SOS has dismissed. Because the only one I can think of is sending applications for absentee ballots. That is not a check or balance.

Now the author is worried about voters being disenfranchised by workers not being able to keep up with an influx of mail in ballots. I wonder how she feels about waiting in line for 12 hours or more only to not be able to cast your vote. Or if your normal polling location has been closed?

Couldn't we just make it so that poll workers could start counting ballots a week early? Stoopid idea! I know!!

More than ever we need to keep our poll workers, township officials and citizens safe.

GET YOUR ABSENTEE BALLOT and return it yourself!

Also, could this article be put on the front page?

middle of the mit
Thu, 07/23/2020 - 5:09pm

Even better idea, poll workers could start entering ballots a week or two before election day, and/or there could be a machine or two set up for absentee ballot users to enter their own ballots.

It would probably be too late to do this for August, but it could work for November.

Adam
Wed, 07/22/2020 - 7:22am

Look, I get it, the more people who are able to vote means that fewer Republicans can win elections. The correlation between aggressive voter suppression and Republican electoral victories is strong and well documented.

However, thanks to the tireless work on the grassroots organizers behind Prop 3, Michigan voters were given the opportunity to thoroughly rebuke the voter suppression strategy that the Republican Party has been relying on for the last few decades. And we, the voters, didn’t waste our chance. Voter suppression lost. Increased access to voting won. No-reason absentee voting is now the law in Michigan.

Now, you may end up losing your job if you can’t expand your appeal to all of the voters in your district instead of just that small slice of voters that Republicans would prefer voted.

Vote-by-mail is a challenge that requires bold, creative solutions. As one of the champions of the radical idea that all Michiganders should be able to vote for their representatives in government, I sure am glad that it’s Jocelyn Benson, and not you or any other Republican, who is in charge of coming up with those bold, creative solutions.

Arjay
Wed, 07/22/2020 - 9:12am

I support no excuse absentee voting where a person has to submit a request for either a ballot or to be placed on a permanent absentee ballot list. In this case, there are checks that the requesting person is who he/she claims to be, registered to vote, and lives where the local office thinks he/she does. When the ballot goes out, there is pretty solid evidence that it went to the person intended.

I do not support mail-in voting where the clerks mail without a request, ballots to everyone without all the checks that go on with absentee voting.

Big difference between the two methods. I can understand why some are so against mail-in voting, and why others who may want to steal an election are so for it.

Peter
Wed, 07/22/2020 - 11:22am

Clerks didn't mail an unrequested absentee ballot to everyone. They mailed an absentee ballot application to everyone. Big difference.

Jim
Sat, 07/25/2020 - 9:03am

Absentee/Mail in Ballots are not a secure way of voting. There is no validation of who is voting, it could be one person filing a hundreds of ballots for people that won't take the time to vote or didn't ask for the ballot. Then we have the USPS, today they can't get a letter across town in three weeks let alone on time for an election. then you have law breaking election officials like the one in Southfield that was just convicted of voter fraud for hiding ballots that didn't conform to her political view. There was also a voter fraud case in Holland, MI in the 2016 election. And let us remember all the voter fraud cases in Florida, and the absentee ballots that get thrown out because they didn't get to the clerks office on time which includes members of the military. In close elections where the win is by very close number, just a few fraudulent ballots could make the difference between a win or loss.

middle of the mit
Sat, 07/25/2020 - 1:37pm

Jim,

If absentee ballots are so unreliable then we should get rid of them for everyone. NO snowbirds or military voting unless they can do what this lady says: https://www.bridgemi.com/guest-commentary/opinion-michigan-mail-voting-c...

See? She didn't like the idea of election participation going up from 12 to 25%. And here she tells us why:

[[[Mail-in voting creates a mail-in democracy. Few things of value come easy; it takes work to be successful in work, in school, in a democratic form of government. Requiring people who can to make the journey to their polling place is critical. Allowing them to phone it in – or mail it in – threatens the very fabric of this country]]]]

This is the Paul Weyrich goo goo syndrome. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPsl_TuFdes

So only people who go to the polls can vote.

NO absentee ballots (even though it is law and you have shown no proof of systemic mass voter fraud caused by mail in ballots) for anyone at all.

Is that what you are after?

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/18/us/Voting-republicans-trump.html

Freed by Court Ruling, Republicans Step Up Effort to Patrol Voting

Officials seek to recruit 50,000 poll watchers and spend millions to fight voter fraud. Democrats say the real goal is to stop them from voting.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/05/18/republicans-are-serio...

The efforts are bolstered by a 2018 federal court ruling that for the first time in nearly four decades allows the national Republican Party to mount campaigns against purported voter fraud without court approval. The court ban on Republican Party voter-fraud operations was imposed in 1982, and then modified in 1986 and again in 1990, each time after courts found instances of Republicans intimidating or working to exclude minority voters in the name of preventing fraud. The party was found to have violated it yet again in 2004.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Crow_laws

Blacks were still elected to local offices throughout the 1880s in local areas with large Black population, but their voting was suppressed for state and national elections. Democrats passed laws to make voter registration and electoral rules more restrictive, with the result that political participation by most Black people and many poor white people began to decrease.[18][19] Between 1890 and 1910, ten of the eleven former Confederate states, starting with Mississippi, passed new constitutions or amendments that effectively disenfranchised most Black people and tens of thousands of poor white people through a combination of poll taxes, literacy and comprehension tests, and residency and record-keeping requirements.[18][19] Grandfather clauses temporarily permitted some illiterate white people to vote but gave no relief to most Black people.
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Why are you Republicans using Jim Crow laws for voting protection?

https://www.salon.com/2020/07/24/gop-rep-louie-gohmert-introduces-bill-t...

Come to think of it, why are you supporting confederate statues?

Geoffrey Owen
Sun, 07/26/2020 - 1:45am

"In May, we saw many of the checks and balances in Michigan election law dismissed through executive orders". What in the world are you referring to? Rep Bollin reports on Washington, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania without being the least specific on what problem she thinks we face in Michigan. The real problem with voting in Michigan and elsewhere is the damage the Republican party is intent on causing to stop voting in any manner. We will vote. We will get through this. Vote.

Elsie Anne
Sun, 07/26/2020 - 2:08am

This is GOP scare tactics. Michigan was on its way to large-scale mail-in voting anyway, due to Prop 3, and local polling places have been preparing for it. In my family, it makes no difference: my elderly parents, my husband, and I have been voting absentee for years. This year, my husband and I received our absent-voter ballot application as usual. My parents have passed since the last election, and apparently the local polling place was aware of their deaths because no ballot applications arrived for them. (The Federal Government tried to send them a stimulus check, but the state understood that they were dead.)
We have never mailed in our ballots. Our polling place is at our township hall, which is just around the corner from our house, so I've always just dropped the applications or ballots in the township drop-box. This year, I notice that they have a much larger box, apparently in anticipation of increased volume of ballots.
Michigan, we got this.

Kathi Geukes
Sun, 07/26/2020 - 9:17am

So you would rather have us be stuck in the quagmire of Covid for decades instead of updating our way of voting to keep people safe? Is this what you're telling the people of MI? How did you get to be in Government? I'm wondering about the quality of people in your district. Seems as if they want to be stuck in the 50's where people line up all smashed together breathing all over each other!! No thank you!!