Absentee voting has become more and more popular in recent years. In fact, Michigan sent out a record breaking number of absentee ballots during the 2016 presidential election. In order to obtain an absentee ballot by mail or in person in the state of Michigan, voters must meet one of six criteria provided on the absentee ballot application form. According to the Detroit News, the most commonly chosen reasons are voters over the age of 60 or those who won’t be in town on Election Day. Other reasons available on the application include a physical disability, religious objections, working as a precinct inspector, or those in jail awaiting trial. Unlike most states, Michigan does not have an option for no-reason absentee voting. Absentee voting by mail without a reason is currently allowed in 27 states as well as the District of Columbia.
There has been a long history in the Michigan legislature of attempts to create laws to allow for no-reason absentee voting. Senate Bill 60, which was introduced in the 2015-2016 session by Senator Jim Ananich (D-Flint), amended Michigan election law by allowing for no-reason absentee ballot applications. A year before this, State Representative Andy Schor (D-Lansing) introduced House Bill 5316 which did not allow for no-reason absentee, but instead provided many more excuses to be accepted on an application. Both of these bills were only sponsored by Democrats and never made it out of their committee for a vote.
Although no-reason absentee bills have historically fallen on party lines, there was a recent proposal by Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson during the 2015-16 legislative session which would allow for a registered voter who doesn’t otherwise qualify for an absentee ballot to obtain one by visiting his or her local clerk and filling out an application. House Bill 4724, sponsored by Rep. Lisa Lyons (R-Alto), included a clause which many Democrats found hard to support. This ballot proposal required in-person voter identification in order to receive an absentee ballot by mail. Democrats tend to argue that strict voter identification laws fight an unnecessary battle on voter fraud, while simultaneously creating more voter suppression. This bill had widespread support, including the Michigan Association of County Clerks, the Ottawa County Clerk, the Michigan Municipal League, and even the American Civil Liberties Union who, like many Democrats, supported the bill with modifications to the in-person appearance requirement. House Bill 4724 also had support from Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder. The bill passed through the House, but Senator Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc) who served as chair of the Senate Elections committee did not support the proposal and refused to take it up in his committee.
Generally speaking, opponents of no-reason absentee voting are concerned that both early voting and no-reason absentee have the possibility to compromise the integrity of the election process by facilitating voter fraud. So far, there has been no data to support this claim. Opponents also argue that absentee voting takes away from the sanctity of election day. Senator Robertson, the chairman who refused to take up House Bill 4724, described Election Day as a “focal point in our electoral process for candidates,” and that he doesn’t want to “diminish the value [of the day].”
Supporters of no-reason absentee voting measures argue that this would make voting easier for registered voters. As a matter of convenience, allowing those who want to vote absentee to do so would allow those people to vote without waiting in lines or rearranging their schedules to get to the polls on Election Day. Proponents also argue that allowing individuals to study their ballots for a longer period of time will enable the voter to research the candidates and any proposals more fully and make a more informed decision. Allowing for no reason absentee also creates a more honest voter—there would be no reason for a voter to lie on his or her application for an absentee ballot.
Two months into the new legislative session after an intense and dramatic election cycle, there has not been another push by either party to allow for no-reason absentee voting. However, if this legislative session is anything like the last few, we will surely see more efforts by Democrats—or even another push from the Secretary of State Ruth Johnson—to add Michigan to the growing list of states allowing for no-reason absentee voting.
References and Further Reading
Clemons, Dominque. "No-Reason Absentee Voting." Michigan Policy Network. March 18, 2014. http://www.michiganpolicy.com/index.php/political-reform-background/poli... 7/1285-no-reason-absentee-voting.
Gerstein, Michael. "Early voting takes different form in Michigan." The Detroit News. October 26, 2016. http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2016/10/26/early-voting-t... different-form-michigan/92809094/.
Livengood, Chad. "Mich. voters request more absentee ballots than in 2012." The Detroit News. October 26, 2016. http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2016/10/26/mich- voters-request-absentee-ballots/92808966/.
Oosting, Jonathan. "No-reason absentee voting a no-go in Michigan Senate, which votes to end February elections." MLive. June 19, 2015. http://www.mlive.com/lansing- news/index.ssf/2015/06/new_no-reason_absentee_voting.html.
Oosting, Jonathan. "With Michigan 'stamp of security,' no-reason absentee voting would require in-person ID." MLive. June 17, 2015. http://www.mlive.com/lansing- news/index.ssf/2015/06/michigan_no-reason_absentee_vo.html.
Johnson, Ruth. "Absentee Voting." Secretary of State - Elections in Michigan. http://www.michigan.gov/sos/0%2C4670%2C7-127-1633-21037--%2C00.html
Hunault, J., Jennifer McInerney, and Perry Zielak. House Fiscal Analysis; Legislative Analysis - No-Reason Absentee Voting HB 4724. PDF. Legislature.mi.gov, December 7, 2015.