With more and more states streamlining their election processes by allowing voters to cast ballots early, State Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor, has sponsored a bill that would allow all registered state voters to cast ballots prior to Election Day, loosen current state absentee voting laws and ease voter registration requirements.
Brater said the legislation would simplify the voting process, increase voter turnout and reduce the wait times that voters faced at the polls on Nov. 4. At Mary Markley Hall on the University of Michigan campus, young voters waited almost three hours to vote on Election Day.
Current state voting laws, she said, restrict Michigan voters from participating in the democratic process.
We are putting Michigan citizens at a disadvantage when it comes to having their voices heard in national elections, compared to other states, Brater said.
If the proposed reforms are enacted, voters could cast ballots at their city clerks office in the several days prior to an election and would be allowed to register and vote in their precinct on the same day. Existing state law requires voters to be registered 30 days prior to an election.
The bill would also lift restrictions on absentee voting and allow any voter to cast an absentee ballot. Currently, voters must be over 60 years old, incarcerated, have religious obligations, plan to be out of their precinct on Election Day or require special assistance casting their ballot because of a disability to qualify for absentee voting.
Brater said students should be able to cast an absentee ballot without an excuse.
Students are very busy, and they have lots of things to do. They have tests to take, and studying, and classes to go to, and their time is valuable, Brater said. It is very important for them to have access to these absentee ballots to make sure that their vote is counted.
Twenty-eight states currently allow the no-excuse absentee voting model that Braters bill would mandate.
Brater said she has received support from members of the state House on the issue, but that the bill hasnt been strongly backed by members of the Senate. Brater said she has pushed for such a bill since taking office as a state representative in 1994, but her efforts have been unsuccessful so far.
She said the Republican-controlled state Senate has posed an obstacle so far.
The party that controls the Senate doesnt seem to see it in their interest to help people vote, Brater said.
Earlier efforts to reform voting requirements in Michigan have been unsuccessful.
In March 2007, State Rep. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, introduced two bills that attempted to repeal Rogerss Law, which requires that Michigan residents register to vote using the address that appears on their drivers license instead of their current mailing address. Both of Warren's bills were failed to pass.
Brater said efforts to reform voting laws in Michigan will likely be just as difficult this time around.
I dont think its going to be very easy to get it taken up right now, Brater said. But were going to keep trying.