The introduction of no-reason absentee ballot voting for Michigan residents promises big changes in elections, and it may also lead to new problems for election officials.
Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum says that the change in absentee ballots is something that Michigan’s state government has been wary about.
“Before the ballot initiative, which is an initiative done by the people, the Legislature refused to act,” said Byrum. “People have been asking, and quite frankly demanding, for no-reason absentee voting.”
Voters led a statewide campaign to change the regulations to qualify for absentee voting. Thousands of people signed petitions to get Proposal 3, a proposal allowing voters to receive an absentee ballot for any reason, put on the ballot last November.
The proposal passed, and now clerks across Michigan are seeing a huge boost in the number of absentee voters. Byrum says there has been a significant change in same-day election turnout.
“This is going to totally change elections in Michigan,” said Byrum. “In Lansing’s August election, I think we saw a 63% increase in absentee voting over same-day voting.”
This rise in absentee voting leads to a huge number of ballots pouring in before the actual election day, something Byrum says needs to be addressed by Michigan legislators.
“What we are seeing now is that the Legislature is refusing to update statutes to allow accommodations for clerks to quickly and safely tabulate ballots,” said Byrum. “We have so many absentee ballots that are coming in that the Michigan Association of County Clerks has asked for consideration to be made.”
Rep. Ann Bollin, who served as the Brighton Township clerk for 16 years before becoming a state legislator, has introduced two bills in the Michigan House of Representatives. Bill 5031 proposes additional options for polling locations, and Bill 5032 proposes increasing precinct size to consolidate voter precincts.
According to the Michigan House Republicans, Bollin’s bill would allow precincts to increase from 2,999 voters to 5,000. It would also let privately owned buildings become polling locations.
These bills were just introduced Oct. 16 . Even if they pass, Byrum says they won’t be enough to help local clerks get absentee votes tabulated in time.“There are still only so many hours in the day to start feeding in those ballots, and it is a long process,” said Byrum. “The ability for Michigan voters to vote via no-reason absentee voting is wonderful; now the challenge is getting the Legislature to embrace some changes in election law that county and municipal clerks have asked for.”
Rep. Bollin did not respond to a request for comment.
According to Byrum, the easiest way to ensure that votes are tabulated on time is to allow local clerks to start feeding ballots into electronic voting machines before election day.
“It’s really unfortunate because the county and local clerks run elections,” said Byrum. “Some of us are partisan, some of us are not, but we all agree that we need additional resources (machines) and additional flexibility (laws) to allow us to start feeding the ballots in earlier.”