The More People Voting in the Public Square the Better, Says SOS. Yup Indeed.

Johnson: The Time Has Come For No-Reason Absentee Voting Michigan (from Gongwer News Service. 6.16.15)

The state has spent the last few years cleaning up its elections process and is ready to add no-reason absentee voting to the system, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson told the House Elections Committee on Wednesday.

“I believe Michigan is ready to offer this service to accommodate the busy schedule of hard working people,” Ms. Johnson said. “Michigan has led the nation in modernizing processes and systems. … Because of all the work we have done, the time is right for secure no-reason absentee voting.”

She urged committee members to support HB 4724* to bring the state in line with 27 other states that offer no-reason absentee voting, but “with Michigan’s stamp of security.”

The bill, introduced by Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-Alto), chair of the committee, would retain the traditional reasons allowing absentee voting. It would also allow a person to go to the local clerk to apply for a no-reason absentee ballot.

At the time the person is applying, he or she would have to follow the same rules as when receiving ballots on Election Day. Currently, the bill requires the person to show identification, but the committee discussed adding the current affidavit process.

The bill, which would take effect January 1, 2016, would also prohibit campaigning – beginning 45 days before the election – if an office was open and receiving applications for no-reason absentee ballots.

Ms. Johnson said no-reason absentee voting is an option the people want.

The committee did not vote on the bill, although there was no opposition presented. Ms. Lyons said she is giving the committee time to study the bill.

“It’s a big change,” she said.

Ms. Lyons said the issue has been politicized, but she said it’s important to take partisanship out of elections as much as possible.

“Any time you are talking about changing how you do elections, I believe there is certainly a political component to it because that is the job of the parties,” she said. “But I don’t work for the party, I work for the people and we really need to look at what we can do to make sure our elections are fair, they’re secure and helping ensure we have as much voter participation as possible.”

Mary Hollinrake, the Kent County Clerk, said if the state approves a ban on straight ticket voting, then no-reason absentee voting would be crucial in preventing long lines at polling places.

Ms. Lyons said she is very interested in looking at an elimination of straight ticket voting.

“We don’t vote for parties, we vote for people,” she said.

Rep. Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline), minority vice chair of the committee, expressed some concern that a person voting no-reason absentee would be required to continuously apply in person to get a ballot, even after the state has validated his or her identity.

Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said those opposing no-reason absentee voting often point to it as an avenue to increased fraud in elections. He said those most likely to vote absentee for no reason are the ones who don’t want to “fib even a little bit” in voting absentee under current law.

“What we’re doing here today, what we’re talking about doing, isn’t going to make life easier for the fraudsters,” he said.

Chris Thomas, the director of elections for the Department of State, said there is no apparent increase in fraud in other states after the enactment of no-reason absentee voting.

Ms. Lyons said she is comfortable with hearing opposition to the bill, but wants to hear reasons. She said if someone says there will be an increase in fraud, she wants to hear how.

“No-reason opposition is not good enough. No-reason absentee, if it is secure, is good,” she said.