While voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to expand voting rights in November, work to implement Proposal 2 is only just beginning.
“The actual implementation is just now being discussed, which frankly is worrying as time is not on our side.” said Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, one of the participants at a panel discussion Tuesday in Lansing hosted by Promote the Vote, the statewide voting rights coalition that advocated passing Proposal 2.
Promote the Vote executive director Micheal Davis Jr. said the coalition is now focused on implementing the change.
“PTV kicks off 2023 strong by bringing together pro-suffrage advocates, election officials and members of the new legislature to discuss key priorities related to Michigan’s access to democracy.” Davis said in a welcome letter to Tuesday’s gathering. “We look forward to working closely with the Legislature and state and local election officials, as well as the governor, attorney general and secretary of state to ensure Michigan has an electoral system that works for all of us.”
Byrum said the meeting is an opportunity for election officials to speak with lawmakers and their staffs about the necessary changes needed for implementation.
“This is a very exciting opportunity to improve ballot box access for voters and part of this opportunity will require changes.” he said.
Also participating in the discussion were Chris Swope, Lansing City Clerk, and Adam Wit, Harrison Township Clerk, along with Sharon Dolente, a senior advisor to Promote the Vote, who was previously a voting rights strategist for the ACLU, and Noah Praetz, professor of electoral law at DePaul University, who is also a co-founder of the consulting firm The Elections Group.
Among the changes the proposal wrote into the Michigan Constitution are:
— a mandatory nine-day early in-person vote;
— Government-funded mail-in ballot boxes and postage for mail-in ballot applications and ballots;
— Gives voters the right to submit a single postal ballot application in all elections;
— Allows voters to verify their identity with a photo ID or signed statement;
— Requires military or foreign ballots to be counted if postmarked by Election Day.
The early voting provision, perhaps the most touted of the reforms introduced by Proposal 2, presents a unique set of challenges that need to be resolved.
Analysis by the nonpartisan, Livonia-based Citizens Research Council of Michigan says the proposal will allow communities within the same county to share early voting locations.
“For example, neighboring cities could coordinate and pool their efforts to offer early in-person voting to residents of the two communities.” says the analysis. “The proposal also allows one early voting site to serve voters from more than six counties, which is the current limit for combining counties for in-person voting. In such cases, a combined early voting site would not be subject to the statutory limit on the number of voters assigned to a constituency (2,999 registered voters).”
Achieving this, however, requires several structural changes, including the Qualified Voters Record, the state’s main electoral roll, which is in place at all polling stations.
“The QVF will need some important updates to enable early voting and ballot tracking, and real conversations will need to be had to continue having safe elections,” Said Byrum.
Currently, the election book, which contains the QVF at the polling stations, is not connected to the internet. But if early voting allows ballots to be dropped off at any polling station, as is currently the case in Illinois, it could create the potential for voters to take advantage “static” List to cast multiple ballots in different locations.
While Byrum says no one should dismiss concerns about connecting polling books to the internet, the issue should also be kept in mind.
“The Qualified Voter File is not the voting system” She said. “So I think it’s important to point that out. There needs to be a discussion about how we ensure that a voter only receives one ballot during an election when we have multiple days of early voting and multiple polling centers. So these are discussions that need to be had, and they need to be had relatively soon.”
Another problem concerns appointments and deadlines.
“We need to change dates, whether it’s candidate submission deadlines or as simple as requiring an election to be confirmed within two weeks of Election Day.” Said Byrum. “Sometimes that’s difficult for our larger counties, and it will certainly be even more difficult if our overseas military constituents are actually given the opportunity to have their ballots counted as long as they are postmarked on or before Election Day.” That adds another week right there. So we will certainly need an extension of this deadline for the confirmation of elections. We’re going to need some rule changes.”
You will also need money. The bipartisan House Fiscal Agency has estimated that the cost of implementing the drop box mandate alone would and would be $2.1 million “This also applies to all subsequent years, resulting in ongoing costs for replacing around 1,800 Dropboxes at the end of their life cycle.”
Meanwhile, the postal voting postage cost would be $4.8 million, although this “It is expected to taper off in subsequent years due to declining elective AV applications until it stabilizes.”
While the analysis found the state’s budget surplus at $9.2 billion and an additional $16 million in available federal election funds, local officials are concerned about the cost to them of the occupation of locations for early voting arise.
That’s why Byrum says talks like Tuesday’s are vital, as officials at all levels have been involved.
“There are so many things and so many moving parts that are needed,” She said. “Crucially, however, local city and county officials need to be involved in implementation, rules and legislation. All election administrators, whether they are a small community or large, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, we all need a seat at the table to adequately represent our community and the struggles we face so that we are ready to serve all voters to serve throughout the state. Because what works very well in Ingham County may not work in Menominee.”
From here, Byrum says, the changes needed will be guided by both the Michigan Association of County Clerks and the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks, each of which has a Legislative Committee that will drive the effort.
She said with a Democratic majority in the legislature, she believes there is a clear sense of the urgency and the expectation that lawmakers will be more responsive to the needs of election officials.
“I want to point out that the majority of election officials are Republicans.” Said Byrum. “And it’s truly unfortunate that the Republican-controlled Legislature refused to act last year and for many years before that. So voters had to take matters into their own hands and accept Proposition 2. And now I look forward to implementing proposal 2.”
Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Visit https://michiganadvance.com/ for more information.
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