Hopes of electoral reform may be stifled as the bills introduced to the state Senate by Sen. Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor) are receiving little support from the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Introduced in February, these bills propose to eliminate the necessity for a valid excuse when casting an absentee ballot. They would also end the requirement of matching addresses on a voter’s driver’s license with election records – an issue which Brater said affects students who live in Ann Arbor, but have hometowns outside the city.
Currently, election law allows six valid excuses for an absentee ballot application: disability, age, religious obligation, commitments of an election official, confinement in jail or being out of the community during the entire period of the election. But Brater said many cases don’t fit easily into these excuses.
For example, a nurse who works an overtime shift at the University Hospital and cannot make it to a precinct may not be able to vote absentee because her excuse does not fall neatly into one of the six pre-approved categories, Brater said.
“I think it’s very important to make it as easy as possible for people to be able to participate in the democratic process,” she added.
In the nine months since the bills’ introduction, however, they have received little attention from the state’s Government Operations Committee. Ari Adler, press secretary for state Sen. Ken Sikkema (R-Wyoming), the chair of the committee and majority leader, said the bills haven’t been decided on because more research has to be done on the 2004 elections. “We want to move cautiously when (we’re) dealing with something as important as voting,” Adler said. “Changing any law that involves elections needs to be done very carefully. It’s a matter of when everyone is comfortable that we’ve covered all the bases.”
But Brater said the research has been done already, as the bills have been introduced in the Senate many times before. Brater introduced the bill regarding absentee ballots last year and then re-introduced it this year. “My impression is that Republicans that control this chamber are not eager to make the voting process more accessible,” Brater said. All 14 co-sponsors of this bill are Democrats.
Other members of the Government Operation Committee did not respond to calls from The Michigan Daily.
In the past, Republicans have argued that this type of electoral reform can lead to voter fraud. Brater denied this claim: “The vast majority of people are law-abiding and don’t want to perjure themselves,” she said.
Steve Hiller, the deputy chief assistant prosecutor at the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office said there have been no incidents of voter fraud, including impersonating another, using a false name or voting twice, within the county since 1992.