A prominent Republican has called for allowing Michigan voters to cast absentee ballots without providing a reason, which is currently stipulated by state law.
That’s just one of a slew of proposals Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, in her first State of the Secretary of State Address on Tuesday, April 19, highlighted as goals for her time as the state’s top elections official.
Other key proposals the former Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds’ speech included were conducting post-election audits, the creation of an Election Crimes Unit, strengthened campaign finance laws, the development of an iPhone application to allow around-the-clock access to campaign finance data, and the consolidation of school elections.
The call for no-reason absentee voting is unique because GOP lawmakers have frequently criticized the idea due to concerns over election fraud. Legislation has been introduced in past and current legislative sessions, including House Bill (HB) 4520, which has been referred to the House Redistricting and Elections Committee.
Under current state law, people are allowed to claim absentee voter status if they meet one of the following criteria: Religious obligations prevent them from getting to the polls on election day; they are an election precinct inspector in another precinct on election day; they are 60-years-old or older; they are absent or expect to be absent from the municipality in which they reside on election day; and if they are jailed and awaiting arraignment or trial.
Johnson’s call for the change in elections law is being met with a lukewarm response from area Republican lawmakers, who cite concerns about election fraud as their main reservation about the push for no-reason absentee voting.
State Rep. Gail Haines (R-Waterford, West Bloomfield) called no-reason absentee voting “a solution in search of a problem.”
“Statistics show that Michiganders had no problem getting out to the polls last November,” she said last week. “Sixty-eight percent of eligible voters did (get out and vote) and I believe our voter turnout was sixth (best) in the nation, and that was even better than states that have no-reason absentee voting.”
State Rep. Hugh Crawford (R-Walled Lake, Wixom) said he “kind of supports” no-reason absentee voting, presuming that it can be done without risking election fraud.
“I know seniors and others can vote absentee, but if you open it up to anybody, any time, any way, it could lend itself to fraud ,” he said. “If that issue could be resolved, I could probably support something like that.”
State Rep. Chuck Moss (R-Orchard Lake) expressed similar concerns.
“I’d like to see greater voter turnout, but we have to make sure those are real voters,” Moss said. “Ruth Johnson has always said that she favors integrity of elections. I’ll take her at her word. I’m very leery of anything that might downgrade or degrade the integrity.”
HB 4520, sponsored by state Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and co-sponsored by state Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield, Commerce, Wolverine Lake), has been referred to the House Redistricting and Elections Committee, where it awaits a hearing.
“Everybody should want voting to be as easy for people as possible,” Brown said. “When we heard this in committee last session, local clerks talked about how they know that people are coming in and lying by saying that they are going to be out of town. Nobody should have to do that. Who cares what the reason is?”