Equal access to voting is perhaps the most quintessential element of a democracy. The ability for every citizen to have an equal say in the formation of their government, regardless of social standing, is a right that was foundational to our Constitution. Given the enormous importance of this ability, one would expect there to be explicit constitutional protections at the state level as well as the federal. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. This is particularly true in Michigan, where recent measures by the state congress have actually seen attempts at enacting new restrictions on voting.
As current Michigan law stands, if a voter is unable to provide a photo ID at a polling location, they have the option to sign an affidavit affirming their identity instead. According to information from the Michigan State Elections Bureau, in the November 2016 election, 18,567 individuals cast their ballots in this manner. Under some proposals in the Michigan Legislature, failure to provide photo identification would result in an invalidated ballot.
House Bill 6066 was approved by the House of Representatives in December of 2016. If passed by the Senate, this bill would require voters to fill out a provisional ballot if they did not provide a government issued photo ID at the time of voting. The voter would then have 10 days to bring a photo ID (or proof of religious or financial inability to obtain such) to their Clerk’s office. Failure to do so would result in invalidation of the provisional ballots that were cast. Given that it is traditionally economically disadvantaged individuals who are unable to provide photo identification, this bill would in effect place an additional burden(at least temporal, if not monetary) upon these individuals when going to cast their ballot, further disincentivizing a class that is already underrepresented at the voting booth. This legislation serves as just one example of how voters can be disenfranchised.
Those who support these tougher restrictions on voting often cite voter fraud as a primary source of concern. One of the primary ways in which voter fraud would be perpetrated would be through double voting. However, incidences of double voting locally and nationally are extremely rare. Out of 4,876,539 ballots cast in the November 2016 election in Michigan, only 31 instances, or 0.0006%, of double voting were found. These cases all involved absentee voting as well, meaning that the instances were not necessarily fraudulent but could be a result of voters forgetting that they had already cast their absentee ballots.
State Representative Jon Hoadley (D, Kalamazoo) has proposed an amendment to the Michigan constitution to address moves to enact tougher voting restrictions. House Joint Resolution O would explicitly “provide for the rights of electors”. The amendment is designed to ensure that voting is more accessible to all and to allow for greater numbers of citizens to participate in the democratic process. The provisions in the amendment would include extending absentee voting to all citizens, in person early voting up to two weeks before an election, and the ability to register to vote at the Secretary of State when applying for or renewing your drivers’ license or state ID card. If you would like to let your state representative know how you feel about this issue, contact them at: 517.373.6339