Opinion: Use it or lose it? Don't purge Michigan voters

By Steve Bieda

For many of us, it was one of the first lessons we learned in our high school government class: Every U.S. citizen has the right to vote.

However, everything we once believed about our voting process is about to change.

It used to be that a miner in Ishpeming, a teacher in Traverse City, a farmer in Alma and an autoworker in Detroit all had one voice — and one vote in the ballot booth. It was this guarantee of democracy that made America the greatest country in the world, but a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling is threatening to derail that promise.

The new ruling effectively greenlights a use it or lose it policy, opening the floodgates for states to purge voters from their voting rolls who haven’t voted in recent elections. Even such voters as veterans deployed overseas or the disabled without a ride to their polling precinct will be stripped of their constitutional right to help determine the future of our nation.

Under this use it or lose it policy, it’s entirely possible for millions of Michiganders to show up at the polls in the next election only to be turned away before they can cast a ballot.

As a registered voter and elected official, I understand why some folks are either too busy or aren’t inspired by any of the candidates on the ballot, and simply choose not to vote. In fact, more than 2.6 million registered Michigan voters opted not to vote in the 2016 election, but that doesn’t mean they should be punished.

Our First Amendment and Second Amendment rights aren’t revoked for not writing our lawmakers or buying guns on a frequent basis — and neither should our right to vote.

Under this use it or lose it policy, it’s entirely possible for millions of Michiganians to show up at the polls in the next election, only to be turned away before they can cast a ballot. That’s why I’ve offered Senate Bill 977 as a solution to this problem.

SB 977 would make Michigan a same-day voter registration state, ensuring that those wrongfully purged from the voter rolls could still perform their civic duty. Same-day voter registration allows people to register — or re-register in the case of voter purges — and cast their ballot all in one visit to the polls.

Same-day voter registration will also help streamline a process that is overburdened by government bureaucracy and the country’s longest waiting period that has kept eligible voters out of the ballot booth. Technological advances have made this possible by allowing us to speed up the registration process while ensuring accuracy and security.

In the 17 states that have already instituted some form of same-day voter registration, there has been a 5 percent increase on average in voter turnout. In Michigan, that would mean hundreds of thousands of additional citizens contributing to the fundamental process of democracy.

We should listen to our government teachers when they told us that every U.S. citizen has the right to vote, and same-day registration will ensure that remains the case for generations to come.

Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, was elected to the Michigan State Senate in 2010. A Democrat, he represents citizens of the 9th District in Macomb County.