Constitutional amendment opens up new possibilities for voters during the pandemic
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Crawford County voters have received applications mailed by the State of Michigan to request absentee ballots from local clerks, which was a provision approved by a state constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2018.
Voters at the November 2018 general election polls overwhelmingly supported ballot proposal 18-3.
Approval of the state constitutional amendment allows voters qualified to vote in Michigan to:
• Become automatically registered to vote when applying for, updating or renewing a driver’s license or state-issued personal identification card, unless the person declines.
• Simultaneously register to vote with proof of residency and obtain a ballot during the two-week period prior to an election, up to and including election day.
• Obtain an absent voter ballot without providing a reason.
• Cast a straight-ticket vote for all candidates of a particular political party when voting in a partisan general election.
The application to request a ballot requires ballot mailings to begin no later than 40 days prior to elections, similar to provisions for military personnel serving overseas.
Crawford County Clerk/Register of Deeds Sandra Moore said the request for absentee ballots coming from the state is causing some confusion. She said the City of Grayling and the townships in the county already maintain a permanent absentee voter list for ballots.
“People just have some uncertainty why this is being done at two different levels,” Moore said.
Tracy Wimmer, the director of media relations for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, said since passage of the constitutional amendment the state has seen the number of people taking advantage of these new rights increase with each election.
The mailing of requests for applications for absentee ballots had drawn some ire from conversative groups and has even been a flashpoint for President Donald J. Trump as he seeks reelection.
Wimmer said applications to request absentee ballots has been done since 2019.
The mailing of the applications has also been coupled by the concern of allowing voters to cast ballot due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No one should be forced to choose between their health and their right to vote, and in Michigan no one has to,” said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. “We have been hard at work to ensure even in the midst of a pandemic voters have the full range of options for how to cast their ballot, and can be assured no matter how they choose to do so it will be safe and secure.”
Wimmer said the practice of mailing applications is no different than any other political interest groups.
“Political parties on both sides and other activist/non-partisan organizations mail applications for absentee ballots ahead of every election,” Wimmer said. “The Secretary mailing applications to every eligible voter ahead of the May 5 municipal elections, and then again ahead of the August/November elections, was to ensure voters understood their constitutional right to vote by mail if they so choose to, which an increasing number of people want to do given that we’re in the midst of a pandemic. She was well within her authority as the chief elections officer of the state to do so.”
Moore said the state is covering 40 percent of the cost to mail the ballots and for the cost of envelopes, which would normally be an expense incurred by each municipality.
“It should be a savings for each governmental unit,” Moore said. “That was their conciliation to do this.”
According to www.michigan.gov, “To ensure all options are available and safe, the Michigan Bureau of Elections is:
• “Providing local jurisdictions with personalized protective equipment (PPE) including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies to protect elections workers and ensure polling locations and clean and safe for voters.
• “Providing ballot drop boxes, automatic letter openers, envelope folders, and additional supplies for local jurisdictions to help them prepare for the increase in absent voter ballots and in-person voting with social distancing. Clerks can also use funding to purchase other materials to help set up polling locations with social distancing, such as sneeze guards, pens, signs, and tape.
• “Providing grant funding for a 50 percent match to jurisdictions to purchase additional ballot tabulators, high-speed scanners and high-speed tabulators, and high-speed tabulation software to more quickly tabulate an expected increase in absent voter ballots.”
Michigan “voters have numerous options to vote safely this election, including absentee by mail, absentee at a ballot dropbox, in-person absentee at their local clerk’s office or satellite office, or at a polling location on Election Day,” according to www.michigan.gov.
If someone wishes to vote from home by mail, they should fill out the application they received either from the Michigan Department of State or their local clerk, and return it to their clerk’s office by mail or email. Once they receive their ballot they can fill it out and mail it back, take the filled out ballot and return it to their clerk’s office, or take the filled out ballot and deposit it in a drop box if there is one available in their area.
Wimmer said new possibilities to vote by the constitutional amendment have ensured accuracy and accountability.
“There have been no cases of voter fraud in Michigan related to absentee/mail-in ballots since the approval and implementation of this proposal,” Wimmer said.
Moore said the extra ballots have been ordered for the August primary election because ballots will not be counted if voters cast votes for the two main political parties on the ballot. They can only vote for candidates in one party on the primary election ballot.
“We wanted to make sure we had enough ballots because people spoiling ballots is a greater expense for us,” she said.
The state has pushed efforts to recruit more election workers due to the absentee ballots and the pandemic. This assistance is especially needed during the COVID-19 pandemic, as older residents who often serve as election workers are more susceptible to the disease.
“Election workers are the most valuable players in our democracy, and we can’t have successful elections without them,” said Secretary Benson. “The number of people we’ve already seen apply to serve is inspiring and reinforces how committed the people of Michigan are to ensuring we have safe, secure, and accessible elections, even in the midst of a pandemic.”
Moore said extra workers will be needed since local governmental units have been working reduced hours and employees have been laid off or furloughed due the pandemic.
“They’re used to doing business a certain way, and now we have so many more applications coming in,” she said. “It’s a big paper shuffle with all of this paperwork.”