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OPINION

Michigan needs voter bill of rights

Jon Hoadley

The 2016 election was a shock for many of us, and I don’t say that because of the outcome. As a legislator watching the process unfold, I was struck by how difficult it was for so many of the people I serve to participate. Democracy is not a spectator sport, or at least, that’s how the saying goes. But what happens when you try to play the game, but get ejected from the field?

In Michigan, the rules we currently have in place stack the system against those for whom voting might otherwise be difficult. Last November precincts across the city struggled with long lines, crowded polling locations and extensive wait times, which, while annoying for some, can be the difference between being able to cast a vote at all for others. Those working long or uncommon hours, for whom obtaining transportation to and from the polling locations is difficult, or who are trying to balance their schedules to make time for voting all found they had to make difficult choices about whether or not they would stay in line, or even take the time to head to the polls at all.

Not only were many of them unable to exercise their right to vote, but in the process, were unable to make their voices heard and keep their elected officials accountable. Those kinds of situations are easily avoidable. Luckily, there is an opportunity to do something about it.

I’ve introduced House Joint Resolution O, which would amend the Michigan Constitution to include a Voter Bill of Rights, outlining provisions to make the voting process more modernized, streamlined and accessible. Among the provisions of this bill would be enshrined the right to no-reason absentee voting for all, a right 27 other states have already enacted. It would also allow for in-person early voting up to 15 days before an election, which is already legal in 34 other states.

It would enshrine the right to vote by absentee ballot for our men and women serving in our armed forces overseas. Most importantly, it would create an automated voter registry to make registering to vote or updating your registration quick and easy, reducing errors and saving money.

Beyond simply ensuring the right to vote, this bill would make sure that each voter, each voice, has ample opportunity to be heard. The integrity of our elections depends on all eligible citizens being able to register and cast their vote.

That’s why it is all of our duty to modernize the elections process, ensuring that the rules of democracy work for everyone. When people take the time and responsibility to vote, we must guarantee that the voices behind those votes are heard, acknowledged and taken into account when crafting policy.

That will not happen unless we first put power back in the hands we the people.

Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, represents Michigan’s 60th House district.