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What's getting in the way of no-reason absentee voting in Michigan?

Ruth Johnson, Michigan Secretary of State
Ruth Johnson for Michigan

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and Gov. Rick Snyder both say the state should allow every voter who does not want to wait until Election Day to cast an absentee ballot. So does Johnson’s Democratic opponent in the November election.

Michigan is in the minority of states that does not currently allow no-reason absentee voting. Twenty-seven other states and Washington D.C. already allow it.

So what is getting in the way of Michigan joining that list?

If you ask Johnson, she’ll tell you not enough lawmakers will support it if the state’s voter registration database is not up to date, and it’s not.

She says it needs to be cleared of people who have died or who are registered to vote in other states.

“A real clean and accurate Qualified Voter File is a key and the foundation to it,” said Johnson. “And I’m not going to stop because I think it’s so important that we make it convenient and secure for our voters.”

Johnson says one reason it has been difficult to clean up the voter file is because the federal government has not provided her office with information that would help track voters who are registered in other states.

Godfrey Dillard is the Democrat challenging Johnson in the November election. He says Republicans are using the voter database as an excuse not to let more people vote absentee.

 Godfrey Dillard, Democratic Candidate for Michigan Secretary of State
Credit Godfrey Dillard / Facebook
Godfrey Dillard, Democratic Candidate for Michigan Secretary of State

“The voter files are reasonably up to date,” said Dillard. “The likelihood of them being 100% up to date is a goal, but the reality is that people move, people die.”

Michigan currently allows people to vote absentee if they are age 60 years old or older, unable to vote without assistance at the polls, expecting to be out of town on election day, in jail awaiting arraignment or trial, unable to attend the polls due to religious reasons, or appointed to work as an election inspector in a precinct outside of your precinct or residence.

According to the Detroit News, the state has already sent out almost 600,000 absentee ballots ahead of the November election, and the percentage of voters casting absentee ballots has grown in recent years.