By Ruth Johnson/Michigan secretary of state
Critics and pundits ("Right to vote is under attack," Dec. 15) would have you think that any move to review and make common sense adjustments to our current elections system is a veiled attempt at destroying our democratic process. The fact is that ensuring integrity in our elections system is our duty and will only serve to increase confidence – and participation.
That’s why I’m working with our legislative partners and Michigan’s clerks on a "Secure and Fair Elections," or SAFE, initiative.
The SAFE proposal would:
*Increase convenience and access through no-reason absentee voting.
* Require training for third parties who register voters.
* Encourage participation through outreach efforts for legitimate voters.
* Protect the rights of legitimate voters by ensuring that those not qualified to vote can’t cast ballots.
No-reason absentee voting would allow voters to pick up an absentee ballot for any reason. All they’d have to do is follow the same requirements as if they’d gone to the polls on Election Day: either show ID or sign a brief affidavit of identity stating they’re not in possession of a photo ID. Their ballots are included with all others and counted on Election Day.
Voters already eligible to obtain an absentee ballot through the mail – including people who are disabled, age 60 and older, in the military or out of town on Election Day – would continue to have that option.
This proposal accommodates voters who may not have a photo ID while also increasing access and convenience, all while ensuring consistency withMichigan’s existing ID laws.
The SAFE initiative also calls for voter registration organizations to register with the Department of State, receive free training and promptly turn around registrations to the state to protect the people the organizations set out to help. New voters will go to the polls with confidence that their registrations made it in on time and were filled out correctly.
In the same spirit of convenience and access, organizations could send one representative to get training from county clerks locally then train other members back in their hometowns. We’re also looking at ways to provide training remotely, such as through the web.
Our goal for this training is also to fight voter registration irregularities. In one example from 2008, a single Oakland County community reported that of 3,000 voter registrations it received from a third-party voter-registration organization, fewer than 50 were valid new registrations. Training on the front end of the elections process could help avoid similar problems in the future.
As Michigan’s chief elections officer, I strongly believe that we must continue our efforts to welcome new, legitimate voters to the process. In addition to sending all 18-year-olds a postcard reminding them to register, we have set up voter registration drives at local colleges and universities, and now allow residents who move to update their address online at www.ExpressSOS.com. Secretary of State Office branch staff also routinely ask ID and driver’s license customers if they would like to register.
And to make sure they are able to cast their votes with confidence, we are addressing vulnerabilities in our elections system. A Pew Center on the States report found that Michigan had an impossible 102.5 percent of its eligible voting population registered to vote in 2008. That just doesn’t add up, and must be addressed.
Some people on our state’s Qualified Voter Files aren’t “qualified” at all – they’re dead, they’ve moved out of state or they’re not U.S. citizens. Under the SAFE initiative this year, we’ve verified and removed the names of 30,000 deceased registered voters from the rolls and are confirming another 20,000.
The SAFE initiative finds a balance between expanding access for all eligible voters, creating more accountability and addressing vulnerabilities in our elections system. It deserves broad support.