Update: City Clerk Addresses the “No Reason Absentee Voting” Issue

     LANSING, MI — In the June 10, 2007 – June 23, 2007 issue, there was a story entitled "Lansing Pastor United and Lansing City Clerk Reach Agreement on Polling Site".  In that article The Lansing Pastors United met with Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope in an effort to address concerns regarding the closing of 12 polling sites.  The Office of the City Clerk is responsible for the orderly conduct of elections and proper maintenance of records of the city.  The City Clerk also prepares Agendas and Minutes for the Lansing City Council.
    One of the seven-point agreements that they made was to make absentee voting ballots more accessible to senior citizens and faith-based citizens. 
    Currently, state law limits absentee voting to certain reasons.   Chris Swope indicated that he is working with other clerks to advocate for "no reason absentee voting" in Michigan.  Also, ballots can’t be requested until 75 days before the primary election, so May 24 was the earliest for this year’s elections.
The reasons allowed under Michigan Election Law are:
I am 60 years of age or older
I am physically unable to attend the polls without the assistance of another
– I expect to be absent from the City of Lansing for the entire time the polls are open on Election Day
– I cannot attend the polls because of the tenets of my religion
– I am an appointed precinct worker in a precinct other than the precinct where I reside
I cannot attend the polls because I am confined to jail awaiting arraignment or trial
The application form is available at www.clerk.cityoflansingmi.com under "Elections."  People can use any written request as long as it contains their signature and one of the reasons above.
     On June 19, 2007, Chris Swope testified in front of the House Committee on Campaigns and Elections in support of two bills designed to expand Absentee Voting in Michigan.  The first bill, HB 4048, would allow no reason absentee voting, while the second bill, HB 4553, would clarify that state law permits clerk’s to maintain permanent absentee voter lists. For more details log on to www.legislature.mi.gov.

      Swope indicated that the current list of reasons (listed above) for absentee voting is too restrictive.
      He indicated that he and his employees do not meet the qualification even though they are working from 7:00 a.m. to after 8:00 p.m..  Even though  Swope is not an appointed precinct worker he states he is out troubleshooting at the polling places all day and getting to his polling place is difficult.  He added that his staff stays at the office all day to answer phones, they don’t even leave for lunch or dinner.
     Other examples of people who do not currently qualify:

People who work long shifts, but within their own city or township
People who leave for a trip on the morning of Election Day
Stay at home parents who don’t have anyone to watch their child
People who are legally barred from entering their polling place

There are many other reasons to support the softening of the restrictions on absentee voting as we become a more mobile society.  In today’s environment of children taking care of their elderly parents is also going to become an issue to contend with in the near future as the population ages.
     Swope said, "No reason absentee voting in something people want; I hear about it at every election.  We need to recognize that our society has changed; we live fast paced lives.  For many of us, going to a specific place at a specific time is a challenge.

     Swope listed advantages of allowing "no reason absentee" voting:

People will not need to stretch the truth in requesting a ballot
It will reduce lines at polling places
It has the potential to increase turnout

     Swope indicated that MAMC, which is a joint group of municipal and county clerks, have adopted a position in response to confusion regarding the Permanent Absentee Voter lists.

As of press time there were no new updates to this issue.