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Opinion: New year, new voting rights

Sharon Dolente

Did you know that if a physical disability prevents you from walking into your polling location on Election Day that Michigan law requires poll workers to bring a ballot to your car so that you can vote? Or that all registered voters can now vote before Election Day from home using an absentee ballot? Or that citizens held in jail, but not serving a sentence, can also vote by absentee ballot?

In 2018, Proposal 3 passed allowing people to register to vote until 8 p.m. on Election Day, and allowing no-reason absentee voting.

These are just some of the many options that help Michigan voters to cast their ballots. In fact, voting has never been easier in our state with new voting laws passed in 2018. To ensure Michigan residents take advantage of their new voting rights, advocates around the state have created a new website, MichiganVoting.org, along with a Know Your Voting Rights guide, which is available in English, Spanish and Arabic.

The ACLU of Michigan worked with election officials at the state and local level, community groups, and voting rights advocates around the state for months to put together these new tools so that all eligible citizens understand their rights and can participate in our elections. The groups also host a hotline 866-OUR-VOTE so that voters facing challenges when registering or casting their ballot can talk to an expert and get advice. In addition to the main hotline number, which provides assistance in English, there are hotlines for Spanish-, Arabic-, and Asian-language speakers. 

This statewide effort is intended to remove all barriers that prevent people from voting. The group has paid particular attention to ensuring that voters from historically disenfranchised communities are not left out of the democratic process. The website and guide provide clear and concise information to ensure people of color, new citizens, low-income citizens, those for whom English is not their first language, young voters, people with disabilities, and people who have a criminal record, can participate fully in our democracy. 

Voting should be simple and accessible and Michigan voters agree. That is why in 2018, together, we overwhelmingly approved Proposal 3, which allows people to register to vote until 8 p.m. on Election Day, and no longer requires a reason to vote conveniently before Election Day by absentee ballot. City and township clerks are also required to open their doors for eight hours the weekend before each election so that voters don’t need to miss work to register or vote.

But we don’t expect the new voting laws to magically fix all the challenges Michigan voters have faced, like voter intimidation, language barriers, or voting locations that are not accessible for voters with disabilities. That’s why along with our new laws, the members of the coalition have committed themselves to voter education and outreach on a scale across the state that has never before been done in Michigan. We are committed to ensuring that voting rights are protected.

Making your voice heard by casting a ballot is critical to a thriving democracy, and all people must have equitable access to the ballot box so that each and every voter can decide on Election Day who they want to represent them at the local, state and federal level. 

With March’s presidential primary rapidly approaching and absentee ballots already available, now is the time for every person in Michigan to educate themselves about their voting rights, to ensure every person in their community knows about their voting rights, and to make a plan to vote on March 10.

Join us in ensuring all eligible citizens make themselves heard in our democracy.

Sharon Dolente is a voting rights strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.