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Senate bill would establish universal, vote-by-mail system

a michigan absentee ballot
Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio

All voting would be done by absentee ballot under a billintroduced Wednesday by State Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor). The bill would end in-person voting at polling places.

Under the bill, registered voters would return their ballots by mail or drop them off at designated, local sites.

"My bill proposes using the system already in place for absentee ballots to provide that opportunity for citizens to vote through the mail," said Irwin. "And clerk's offices would be open on election day for individuals who want to make use of same day registration or, if they're disabled voters, who need particular accomodations or if people just want to drop their ballot off in person because they don't want to put it in the mail."

Irwin says the legislation would increase voter turnout and save millions in election administrative costs. 

Irwin said fewer election workers, less voting equipment, and fewer polling locations would save money, some of which could be invested in additional election security and auditing.

"It's going to make voting easier and more convenient for our citizens," said Irwin. "And particularly at this time when we're facing the corona apocalypse, now there's additional urgency to moving to a vote-by-mail system."

Irwin said a vote-by-mail system is smart preparation for the November election in light of COVID-19.

"With additional concerns about the safety of voters, with additional concerns around the ability to recruit election workers and the locations for polling sites, we don't want this to become a problem in October."

Irwin said it could be challenging to get the bill passed because of frequent Republican Party opposition to measures that could make voting easier and might increase turnout. But he says he hopes some of his Republican colleagues will take an independent look at the legislation.

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Elections, chaired by Republican State Senator and former Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.

Neither Johnson nor a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey responded to a request for comment.

Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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