After a bitterly contested election that brought unprecedented lines to polling stations, state Sen. Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor) has taken a proactive stance to address voting difficulties with a new bill to remedy the acknowledged problems in the state’s voting system. Under her proposed bill, Brater plans to make Nov. 2 a holiday for state employees, including University professors, along with a slew of provisions that the Republican-controlled state Legislature is expected to quash. But in a surprising development, Republican Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land has chosen to back the proposal. More Republicans need to endorse this bill that will bring about welcome reforms and facilitate democracy.
Addressing students’ concerns after the past election, the bill would give ample time for students to vote on Nov. 2. Students have lamented over the difficulty of squeezing voting into their already packed schedules, but the new provision addresses this issue by effectively cancelling class — professors get the day off. The bill would lift the cumbersome restrictions of the so-called “Motor Voter” laws: In-state students will not need to change the addresses on their driver’s licences to match the one at which they registered to vote. These practical changes will lead to easier poll access and eradicate the problems that arise when students make it to the front of the voting line.
The bill also aims to cut down on the length of lines at most polling precincts. The centerpiece of the bill focuses on providing “no-excuse” absentee ballots, so that absentee ballots are available to all registered voters, not just the few that have trouble getting to the polls. This should, according to Land’s spokesperson, “help alleviate crowding on Election Day.”
Perhaps the most critical reform is a clause that will allow prospective voters to register on Election Day itself, something that only six states allow. This should markedly improve turnout; a study of the past election by the New York Public Interest Research Group found that the four states with the highest turnout all had such laws. Another bill Brater introduced would permit municipalities under the county level to permit voting by mail. Only Oregon allows voting by mail, and it was rewarded with the highest voter turnout in the election. Michigan’s voter turnout rate of 67.5 percent is already above the national average. This number would climb even higher under Brater’s bill.
Furthermore, the bill plans to open up polling sites days before Nov. 2 to give busy citizens a “window,” not just one day, during which they can vote. Republicans are expected to vehemently oppose this provision of Brater’s legislation because of statistics indicating a high rate of fraud in early voting in other states. Logistically, legislators have complained that the costs of an election would rise as poll workers would be required to work for a longer period of time. Nonetheless, these concerns should not outweigh the benefits of the proposed changes. The status quo, which limits the ability of busy individuals to vote, limits the inclusiveness of our electoral system. Despite financial burdens imposed by higher anti-fraud and staffing costs, the potential benefit, higher participation in government, should drive legislators to support the bill.
The Legislature must halt its overly passive approach to election reform. Brater’s bill proposes some logical, feasible reforms that would increase voter turnout and simplify the entire voting process. Republicans, specifically, should join with their Democratic counterparts and the Republican secretary of state to pass this worthy piece of legislation.