Let any voter cast absentee ballot

Wayne Schmidt

The act of voting is one of the most important civic responsibilities of citizens. Voting determines legislative positions, judgeships, county and local commissioner and trustee positions, school board representation, local millages, ballot initiatives and more.

Given the importance of voting and the impact the results have in our daily lives, voter turnout remains very low. In the most recent primary election held on Aug. 2, only 19 percent of the more than 7.3 million registered voters participated. This figure was slightly lower, but overall consistent with primaries held in a presidential election year.

In Michigan, on Election Day, the polls are open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. This 13-hour window provides ample opportunity for most people to exercise their right to vote. But for many, including the elderly, infirmed or students, absentee voting is the way to cast a ballot. About 20 percent of people who vote in a given election cast their ballots this way.

Michigan should update its voting laws to allow any registered voter to cast an absentee ballot. Absentee voting should simply be another option provided to voters in addition to the traditional way of traveling to a precinct to vote in person.

As it works in Michigan currently, an absentee ballot may be obtained by voters who are: Age 60 years old or older; unable to vote without assistance at the polls; expecting to be out of town on election day; in jail awaiting arraignment or trial; unable to attend the polls due to religious reasons; or appointed to work as an election inspector in a precinct outside of their precinct of residence.

The current process for obtaining an absentee ballot is rigid and out of date. An update would enable voters to get their ballots well in advance, affording them time to familiarize themselves with the ballot and educate themselves on the candidates and important issues that are up for a vote.

Another overlooked aspect is the demand that is placed on our clerks and polling location workers. These volunteers spend hours after polls have closed to tally and secure ballots and equipment. Absentee ballots help to alleviate this burden.

Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have already recognized this and accomplished the necessary reforms. I will introduce a bill in the Senate that would include our state in these efforts and better empower absentee voting in Michigan.

My proposed bill would also allow Michigan voters to apply for and receive an absentee ballot at their city or township clerk’s office after meeting the same requirements as they do when voting in person on Election Day. Simple, yet secure.

Low voter turnout is an unfortunate aspect of the elections process and it is something that we continue to discuss when debating ways to improve participation. Michigan has already done a lot of work to improve the elections process in the state, and expanded opportunities for secure absentee voting is a logical next step.

State Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, represents Michigan’s 37th District.