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Politics & Government

Commentary: Absentees for All


The other day, I told my significant other she should plan to be out of town on election day. “Was it something I said?" she asked. Well, no. It’s the way election law works in Michigan. We may all face a ballot that is as long as the proverbial bed sheet.

Not only are there a vast number of candidates and races, we could be asked to decide on four, eight, possibly 11 different complicated ballot proposals. Do you know what would happen if every voter stayed in the booth till she or he managed to figure all this out? We’d all still be in line in four years.

Naturally, nobody does that. So people either skip the proposals or take uninformed guesses. In the case of judicial candidates, too many of us go for familiar or judicial-sounding names, which is why there are a lot of judges named Kelly.

We also, oddly enough, elect trustees of our three biggest universities, and what’s even more bizarre, elect them on a partisan basis. Since almost nobody has ever heard of any of these folks, the winners tend to be of the party that wins the top of the ticket.

Danialle Karamanos, a Republican member of the Wayne State board, lost four years ago when President Obama swept Michigan. She won two years later when Rick Snyder did the same.

In other words, today’s ballot is like a complicated take-home test -- except that for most of us, it is illegal to take it home.

You legally can only get an absentee ballot in Michigan if you are over 60, expect to be out of town, are in jail awaiting trial, can’t vote without assistance or for religious reasons, or expect to work as an election inspector in a precinct other than your own.

Otherwise, you are expected to go to the polls and wing it. Now there are ways to prepare. If you go to the website Publius.org and type in your zip code, it will give you a sample ballot identical to the one you‘ll see. But how many people know that? Some still can’t navigate cyberspace.

There’s a simple solution. Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson says she’s committed to election reform. Well, one of the most sensible things she could do is ask the legislature to pass a law allowing no-reason absentee voting. Republicans are suspicious of this; they fear all sorts of people will get their ballots and mark them the way some political boss tells them to. Frankly, there is little chance of that.

You’d still have to individually request an absentee ballot. I’m not approaching this from a partisan perspective. I think Democrats are wrong to oppose the new rule that voters have to show a photo ID. I have to show one to check out a library book in my home town.

But since we face a complex ballot, where the fate of some of these proposals could dramatically change our lives in Michigan, it is crazy not to help us cast a thoughtful, well-researched vote.

Actually, I think the Oregon model, where everybody votes by mail, makes the most sense. But allowing anyone to vote absentee would be a good step towards my favorite destination, practical common sense.


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