Gov. Rick Snyder, left, with GM exec Timothy Lee at the auto show, will likely discuss education and the projected budget surplus. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Lansing— Gov. Rick Snyder will set the tone for his re-election campaign and preview upcoming budget battles in tonight’s State of the State address.
He is expected to talk about education, discuss what to do with a projected $1 billion surplus, renew the quest for more permanent road repair money and dwell on his accomplishments.
What won’t be included is a repeat of his pledge from last year to join Secretary of State Ruth Johnson in seeking no-reason absentee voting and online voter registration — initiatives that are not popular among the Republican legislative majority.
“I don’t think that’s something I’m going to emphasize because there was some effort to do that last year that didn’t work,” Snyder said in an interview Tuesday at the North American International Auto Show. “There’s a limited opportunity window, and given that it’s an election year, I think there are other things that will be priorities.”
That’s a disappointment to Rich Robinson, who tracks political campaign funding as head of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
“It puts people in a bad position when they have to make up a story about why they want to vote absentee,” Robinson said. “We’re being left behind, and it’s too bad. We should be encouraging more participation in elections, not discouraging it.”
A year ago, the reforms were key items on Snyder’s to-do list in his annual message, following discussions with Johnson. The result: two ignored Democratic bills for the reforms and GOP majority silence on the issue, which seems certain to continue this year.
Johnson, also a Republican, said she still sees value in getting them enacted during an important election year when it’s her duty to maximize voter turnout.
Johnson said she has spent three years culling unqualified voters from state registration files to reduce concerns that making voting more convenient also would make it easier to cheat.
“I know it would be easier for the Legislature to be more amenable if they could be sure the qualified voter files had the integrity so we could be sure everyone who voted was qualified,” she said, adding “the files now are in much better shape than they ever have been.”
In a biennial review of states’ election administration and performance, Michigan continues to get above-average ratings from the Pew Charitable Trusts — 70 percent in 2010, the most recent, with 50 percent being average.
But Pew mentions the state doesn’t have no-reason absentee voting. Twenty-eight states do.
To vote absentee here, a voter must be 60 or older, need assistance at the polls or claim to have been called out of town, on jury duty or unable to attend the polls for religious reasons.
Despite having a governor steeped in computer technologies, Michigan also lags 17 other states that have online voter registration in an age when millions of people bank, shop, pay taxes, talk and, in the case of Washington state, vote electronically.
Democrats support bills by Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, and Rep. Woodrow Stanley, D-Flint, to enact the changes.
Alex Rossman, spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing, said the 12-member minority party caucus “will continue to advocate for expanded voter access.”
House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills said his party favors more convenient voting while maintaining safeguards against fraud.
“Legislative Republicans have not introduced any bills because they are concerned that such measures would increase turnout of voters who may not vote Republican,” Greimel charged.
The change appears unlikely this year.
“All (lack of action) means is that no bills were introduced by Republicans on this and none of the bills moved forward yet,” said Ari Adler, press secretary to House Speaker Jase Bolger of Marshall.
“That’s not to say the issue is not going anywhere eventually, but we do have serious concerns over protecting voters, their votes and their personal information,” Adler said.
“The majority leader is not specifically opposed to either issue, (but) his greatest concern is to preserve the integrity of the elections process,” press secretary Amber McCann said on behalf of the Senate’s Randy Richardville of Monroe.
Staff Writer Karl Henkel conributed to this report.