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Twenty-seven states allow absentee voting without an excuse, Michigan is not one of them

It’s like November in September as absentee ballots in Michigan are in the mail and, for some, voting has already begun.

If history is any guide, about a quarter of Michigan voters will vote using an absentee ballot, even though some will probably lie to do it because not everyone can legally cast an absentee ballot in Michigan.

You are allowed to vote absentee in Michigan if you’re 60 years old or older, unable to vote without someone’s help, in jail awaiting trial, a poll worker at a different precinct than your own on election day, if you’re going to be out of town, or because of a religious obligation.

Otherwise, you have to show up at the polls on Election Day.

Now, we know, as absentee voting becomes more popular, some people simply make up a reason. So why not change the law?

Other states have made absentee voting easier. Three states conduct their entire elections with mail-in or drop-off ballots. It’s called “convenience balloting.” In Michigan, it’s called no-reason absentee voting. An absentee ballot for any registered voter who wants one.

Democrats here in Michigan are all for this idea. They are all about making voting easier because Dems typically do better when turnout is higher.

Republicans, meantime, have favored more restrictive voting rules. But some Rs are coming on board including Governor Rick Snyder, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and State Representative Lisa Lyons. Lyons chairs the state House Elections Committee and says there’s no reason not to allow no-reason absentee voting.

“Providing voters with the ability to vote absentee without having to provide a reason isn’t pro-Republican. It’s not pro-Democrat. That’s a pro-voter and as more and more of our voters are casting ballots via absentee that makes them not have to lie if they don’t fall within those six reasons for absentee voting. It just makes good common sense,” Lyons explains.

But there’s still a critical mass of Republicans who say ‘not yet.’ Count Republican state Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof among them. He says more absentee voting could lead to more cheating. “It has to be secure. That’s the biggest part that Senate Republicans are worried about.”

What it would take to make it more secure, we don’t know.

But, even with Michigan’s conditional absentee voting, we know it will be decisive. Like we mentioned, roughly one in four votes cast in Michigan will probably be absentee.

The absentee voter will be a big deal. And the campaigns know that.  So they will keep track of who requests an absentee ballot (that’s a public record).

Those voters will get mailings, maybe a phone call, maybe someone knocking on their door. 

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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