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Early voting takes different form in Michigan

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — President Barack Obama is encouraging people to vote early in the 40 states where casting ballots before Election Day has started or about to begin, but it doesn’t include Michigan.

Absentee voting is only legally available to voters who meet certain criteria such as being age 60 or older and being out of town on Election Day.

Michigan is one of 10 states that don’t allow some form of early voting. Still, more people are effectively voting earlier in the Great Lakes State by casting an absentee ballot, which can be submitted before Nov. 8.

Absentee voting is only legally available to voters who meet certain criteria such as being age 60 or older and being out of town on Election Day.

Efforts to allow early voting or no-reason absentee ballots — which effectively could be another form of early voting — have had trouble gaining traction in the Republican-led Legislature.

Mich. voters request more absentee ballots than in 2012

Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint, introduced a bill in January 2015 to allow Michigan voters to cast their ballots up to 30 days before an election. The proposal was meant to “make it easier for people to vote” — an idea Ananich has promoted in prior sessions, Ananich’s spokesman Tom Lenard said.

The bill is unlikely to emerge in a Republican-controlled legislature, where such early voting measures seem to generate little interest, although at least three notable Republicans have supported some form of early voting.

But even the GOP proposals have not prompted action.

Gov. Rick Snyder, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and House Elections Committee Chairwoman Lisa Posthumus Lyons of Alto have each supported a measure to allow anyone to cast an absentee ballot without having to meet one of the six current criteria necessary to do so.

Lyons, a Republican running for Kent County clerk this fall, sponsored the legislation that would have allowed any registered voter to cast their ballot by mail if they filled out an application in person at a local clerk’s office and had proper identification. She said she does not support early voting, “so I can say with certainty that the issue will not be taken up in the House Elections Committee this year.”

Lyons said she continues to push for no-reason absentee voting, which she says is distinct from early voting because absentee ballots are not actually tabulated until Election Day, unlike early voting, “meaning they have the opportunity to change their vote if they change their mind in the days leading up to the election.”

“On the other hand, true early voting requires a voter’s ballot to be tabulated immediately,” she said. “Votes should be counted on Election Day and not before, so early voting is the wrong direction for Michigan voters.”

Lyons said she hopes her no-reason absentee legislation passes the Senate and is signed by Gov. Rick Snyder by the end of the year. It passed the the House 59-46 but has stalled in a Senate committee chaired by Sen. Dave Robertson, R-Grand Blanc.

Snyder urged senators to pass the no-reason absentee voting bill after he signed legislation eliminating straight-party voting. The practice of straight-party voting remains in effect for the Nov. 8 election as the new law goes through a legal challenge.

State Reps. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, and Gretchen Driskell — a Saline Democrat who is running for Congress against Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg of Tipton — have also sponsored legislation creating a constitutional amendment that would allow early voting and no-reason absentee ballots.

They say it would help shorten lines at the polls and ensure everyone has a chance to have their political voices heard under their so-called “voter bill of rights.”

“I would hope the committee would have a conversation and advance the measure so we can have it on the ballot in 2018,” Hoadley said. “Protecting our voting rights in the state constitution ensures we all can vote, we have the flexibility necesesary for modern life, and keeps the voting process secure and accurate.”

He added that it works in most other states.

House Republican leaders have not yet considered the “voter bill of rights” because it has not emerged from committee, said Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant.

D’Assandro said some members of the Republican caucus have had concerns with Lyons’ bill as well, but did not elaborate.

“The Lyons bill is still being worked on and, if some improvements can be made, that is something that could be looked at,” he said.

mgerstein@detroitnews.com