If the Michigan Legislature passes a bill that state Sen. Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor) is planning to introduce, University students will no longer have to squeeze voting in between classes and exams.
The proposed bill would make election day a state holiday for all employees, including University professors.
The proposal is the most recent of several reforms that Brater is introducing to make it easier for people to vote.
Brater said the centerpiece of these reforms is a bill that would provide for no-excuse absentee voting. Currently, a Michigan resident must provide a valid excuse to be issued an absentee ballot.
Washtenaw County Clerk-elect Lawrence Kestenbaum, a Democrat, said the Republican-controlled state Legislature is “not going to be receptive to most electoral reforms,” with the exception of no-excuse absentee voting.
But earlier this month, Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, a Republican, expressed her support for easing the process of absentee voting. “If you have no-excuse absentee voting, that would help alleviate crowding on Election Day,” Secretary of State spokesman Ken Silfven said.
Brater said she was encouraged by Land’s enthusiasm for the measure.
“I’m inviting her to work with us to get it passed,” Brater said.
Land has not yet collaborated with any legislators, but “she would like to begin some dialogue with stakeholders in the near future,” Silfven said.
Both Brater and Land have also said they support early voting, which would allow Michigan residents to cast their ballots in person at polling sites before Election Day. Silfven said early voting would also help shorten long lines at the polls, but he admitted it faces a higher barrier to implementation than no-excuse absentee voting.
“There is a tremendous impact at the local level,” he said, mentioning the availability of polling sites and the cost of employing more poll staffers as factors that could foster resistance to early voting.
“Other states do it, and it seems to work fine,” he added.
But The Charlotte Observer reported a higher error rate for ballots cast under early voting and that election staff in North Carolina worked “horrendous hours” during the period of early voting in the state.
Silfven said no-excuse absentee balloting and early voting would “eliminate unnecessary barriers” to participation, but he cautioned against more sweeping reforms. “You don’t want to have convenience at the expense of election security,” he said.
Another reform Brater introduced would eliminate the provision that currently requires the address on a voter’s driver’s license to match the address on record with election officials.
“It has the effect of deterring students from voting,” she said, adding that the law makes it more difficult for college students to vote on campus.
Silfven defended the law as a safeguard against fraud.
Brater disagreed, saying, “There is really no history of voter fraud in the state. What we do have a history of … is preventing people from voting.”
Brater also proposed legislation that would permit same-day registration and voting, which only six states allow, the Associated Press reports. This measure could boost voter turnout in the state. According to the New York Public Interest Research Group, four of the states with same-day registration had the highest percentage of their voting-age population turn out at the polls this year, as reported by the AP. Another bill introduced by Brater would allow municipalities below the county level to conduct local elections by mail. “Making it easier to vote by mail would definitely save people time on Election Day,” Brater said.
Expansion of voting by mail could reduce the cost of paying staffers to operate the polls on Election Day. Voting by mail could also drastically improve Michigan’s already above-average turnout of 67.5 percent of registered voters, 7.5 points higher than the national rate for this year’s election.
Oregon, the only state that currently conducts elections exclusively by mail, enjoyed the highest voter turnout in the nation this month.
“The problem with voting by mail is you have less control over what people do with their ballots,” Kestenbaum said. “The likelihood of people selling their votes is greater.”
But he added, “That is going to be the way things are going to go,” and said election by mail was at least more secure than voting online and less susceptible to fraud.
If election by mail and other electoral reforms become more widespread, they could change an election season calendar that is structured on the assumption that most votes are cast on Election Day.