Column: Don’t roll back voting rights in Michigan

Susan J. Demas

Michiganders want and deserve a voting system that works for all of us, regardless of our race, gender, religion or ZIP code. The eagerness with which communities turned out to vote in 2020 was historic and encouraging. 

Our elected leaders should follow the lead of the voters of Michigan and build on that success in protecting the right to vote and expanding access to the ballot. We’ve already made some great strides, like in 2018 when over 66% of voters voted in favor of Proposal 3 to expand voting rights and freedoms. Since then, millions of Michiganders have utilized their new rights in local, state and national elections. 

There are rumblings in Lansing that a set of bills aimed at rolling back voting rights could soon be introduced in the Legislature. There are real concerns that the rationale behind these bills is misinformation about the November 2020 election and the lies that were spread about Michigan voters. 

The reality is that the November election was safe, secure and accurate. Local clerks from both parties have testified to this fact and hundreds of audits have confirmed it. 

Let’s be frank: Any efforts to put up more barriers to voting will not result in secure elections, but will disenfranchise registered voters in Michigan, particularly voters of color, but also young people, voters with disabilities, rural voters, and working parents, all of whom utilized Michigan’s new voting rights in 2020.

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Michigan has been an extraordinary history as a leader in expanding access to registration and voting. Michigan was the first state to implement a motor voter system, where voters are offered the opportunity to register when they obtain a driver license. This made it easier for voters to register to vote and greatly expanded the number of registered voters. It was so successful that it was later adopted nationwide through the National Voter Registration Act. 

In 2018, 80 of Michigan’s 83 counties voted to give citizens of this state the freedom to register at any time and to vote on or before Election Day, and on Nov. 3, 2020, over 10,000 people took advantage of these new rights, registering to vote and voting on Election Day.

To build a voting system that works for all of us, we need to keep looking forward. One way Michigan could move forward is to offer several weeks of early voting in addition to absentee voting. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 24 states have enacted early voting as an option for voters. 

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Early voting gives voters the opportunity to put their completed ballot into a tabulator, fix errors they make on their ballot, and avoids disenfranchising any voter because they forgot to sign their ballot and didn’t return it in time to reach their clerk’s office. Early voting would streamline the voting process for voters because early voting is simpler and faster for the voter than absentee voting.  

Likewise, early voting is simpler for local clerks. Because the completed ballot is tabulated immediately, clerks don’t need as much time or as many resources to process and tabulate absentee ballots later.

Now is the time to move our state forward and build on what the people of Michigan have done together to expand participation in our democracy. Michigan had historic turnout in the August and November 2020 elections. Together we created a voting system that provided more citizens with the freedom to make their voices heard in our democracy. 

We need more — much more of that — to achieve our shared goal of being a government of, by and for the people.      

Sharon Dolente is an attorney with Promote the Vote. She played a key role in writing and leading the Proposal 3 ballot initiative that voters approved in November 2018 and has served as the ACLU of Michigan's Voting Rights Strategist. She has participated in voter protection efforts since 2004, managed the statewide voter protection effort for a presidential campaign in 2012, and managed the largest and most coordinated nonpartisan program Michigan ever had in 2014. She also has more than a decade of experience in private practice both in civil rights and criminal defense.