Bill could remove limits on Michigan absentee voting

By Allana Akhtar, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 23, 2015

A bill proposed in the Michigan state legislature could make voting easier for University students.

Earlier this month, several state senators sponsored a bill that would allow first-time voters in the state of Michigan to vote by absentee ballot or mail. The bill has been sent to the Senate’s Committee on Elections and Government Reform for review.

Currently, first-time voters in Michigan are required to vote in person unless disabled, older than 60 or temporarily residing overseas.

Proponents of the new legislation said the current law presents a problem for many University students, who are living in Ann Arbor during their first election and cannot return to their hometown to vote in person.

Steve Bieda (D–Warren), a co-sponsor, said he hopes to encourage voter turnout by making voting more accessible. He said current legislation unfairly benefits the state’s Republicans because college students tend to be younger and more liberal, and are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates.

“Frankly, I think it’s a very partisan attempt to prevent people from voting,” he said.

Bieda added that he is unsure if the committee, which is made up of four Republicans and one Democrat, will schedule a hearing for the bill. He said he predicts the bill will not receive a hearing.

“This is one example that we’re trying to overcome on a useless law that doesn’t serve any purpose other than make it more difficult for people to vote, to restrict people from voting,” Bieda said.

Republic committee members David Robertson (R–Grand Blanc), Patrick Colbeck (R–Canton), Judy Emmons (R–Sheridan) and Mike Shirkey (R–Clarklake) could not be reached for comment.

Jesse Buchsbaum, chair of Voice Your Vote, a nonpartisan Central Student Government initiative aimed at engaging students in politics, said ease in voting is particularly important for student voters.

“Because students have so much going on in their lives all the time, students are most likely to vote if the process is very, very easy for them,” he said.

To curb the potential aversion students may feel toward toward both registering and going out to vote, Voice Your Vote aims to help students along and make the process as easy as possible. Along with educating students on both issues and candidates during election years, Voice Your Vote also encourages students to register by going door-to-door in residence halls and holding booths in the Diag.

Despite the group’s efforts to register and educate voters, Buchsbaum said efforts are still somewhat hindered by current law.

He said the bill’s passage would have mixed results for students on campus because it would only help students registered to vote in Michigan. Though the legislation would allow Michigan residents to vote for the first time while remaining in Ann Arbor, the bill would have no effect on out-of-state students, as their home state legislature may not allow first-time absentee voting.

“Most states don’t have laws where first time voters can vote absentee; you have to vote in person,” Buchsbaum said. “So, because many students at Michigan are still from out-of-state, it may cause a decent amount of confusion.”