Last semester, many students learned firsthand that voting in Michigan can be quite a hassle, complete with voter ID problems, proper wardrobe requirements and general misinformation. But as it turns out, voting is even harder for Michigan’s military personnel overseas. According to a study released last week by the Pew Center on the States, one-third of all states aren’t giving military personnel stationed overseas enough time to vote — and not surprisingly, Michigan is one of them. This is a tragedy for Michigan’s overseas military personnel: They deserve to have their votes counted like everyone else. The state legislature should get to work immediately to make sure that right is upheld by implementing improvements like electronic voting, write-in ballots and deadline changes.
In several states, the voting process for military voters abroad can take as little as eight days. In Michigan, it takes a minimum of 57. Given voting deadlines and inefficiencies in mailing systems, this leaves military voters very little time to complete and send their ballots. For many, that is simply not enough time, and makes the process far too inconvenient.
It’s bad enough when students and civilians are discouraged from voting by Michigan’s overcomplicated election laws. But to discourage serving men and women from voting is downright embarrassing. The Pew Center’s report identifies electronic voting, write-in ballots and deadline changes as ways to alleviate this problem. These reforms have been successfully employed in other states and would give military personnel more time to complete and submit their ballots.
Allowing electronic voting via e-mail or fax would greatly reduce the time ballots spend in mail systems. Although there are some concerns about the safety and security of electronic voting, Michigan’s legislature should take a serious look at this option to see if electronic voting could work with the proper safeguards in place. This option could give military personnel weeks, rather than days, to cast their ballots.
Michigan can also give its military voters more time to vote and make the process more convenient by minimizing the time ballots spend in conventional mail and military mail systems. The state should consider changing the deadlines for absentee ballots. Ballots are sent out to absentee voters on Sept. 20, but Michigan could follow the lead of other states and send them out earlier. Michigan should also expand use of the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, which allows individuals to write-in their candidate preferences and could serve as a back-up for people who don’t receive their ballots on time.
Voters should be able to expect more than slow mail systems and bureaucratic hurdles from their government — especially when it comes to voting. There are plenty of solutions to this problem, and the state legislature has no excuse for failing to address the issue. The legislature needs to make procedural changes to move Michigan into the group of states that gives its troops stationed abroad enough time to cast their votes.