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When we last left Michigan in December, the two houses of the state Legislature had agreed on versions of legislation to eliminate the straight ticket-voting ban and had “tie-barred” those proposals to another proposal to allow no-excuse absentee voting – meaning neither bill could pass unless both did. Since then, the tie-bar was removed, the straight-ticket ban enacted and (just recently) was signed by the Governor. Still, pressure on legislators to enact no-excuse absentee continues. MLive.com has more:
The Michigan Senate in December broke a pair of bills apart to avoid passing no-reason absentee voting, but now they’re facing calls to pass that bill from Gov. Rick Snyder and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.
HB 4724 would allow voters to go to their local clerk’s office and either vote in person there or take an absentee ballot home without having a reason to vote absentee. Current Michigan law only allows absentee voting if a person falls into one of six categories, including being over age 60 or expecting to be out of town on election day.
The bill was introduced in June, but gained traction when it was tie-barred to a bill that banned straight-ticket voting. That action would have meant that neither bill made it into law unless the other one did. However, the Senate broke that tie-bar in a late night session and the House agreed to it.
Gov. Rick Snyder signed the standalone version of the bill to eliminate straight-ticket voting Tuesday, but urged the Senate to pass no-reason absentee as well.
“I urge the Legislature to further engage in this discussion and ask the Senate to pass HB 4724 as soon as possible,” Snyder said in a letter to legislators.
The Secretary of State echoed the Governor’s call:
Secretary of State Ruth Johnson added her voice to those calling for passage.
“First the state House voted in support, and now Gov. Snyder has gone on record in support of creating a secure absentee voting option for Michigan’s hardworking families. I strongly encourage the Legislature to finish the job for their clerks and voters who know this time-saving option will increase election integrity and help Election Day run more smoothly,” Johnson said.
“The bill expands opportunities for absentee voting, which aids Election Day efficiency, while preserving and increasing the integrity and security of our elections.”
The challenge is that the two chambers are divided on the merits of no-excuse absentee – which prompted the (ultimately unsuccessful) effort to tie it to the straight ticket ban:
House Elections Committee Chair Lisa Lyons, who sponsored HB 4724, said after her committee voted to tie-bar the two bills that secure no-reason absentee mitigated concerns over long lines at polling places. After the governor’s signature on straight-ticket elimination, she called again for no-reason absentee passage.
“I applaud the Governor in his call for swift action on secure no-reason absentee voting legislation. Secure no-reason absentee voting is pro-voter and common sense policy. I urge the Senate to join the Governor, Secretary of State, and the House of Representatives in standing up for Michigan voters by passing House Bill 4724.”
But Senate Elections Committee Chair Sen. David Robertson has previously expressed opposition to the bill, and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said before breaking the tie-bar that the caucus agreed with him.
Meekhof spokeswoman Amber McCann said Tuesday his position hadn’t wavered.
“There will definitely be discussion around the caucus table” regarding no-reason absentee voting, McCann said, but “the Majority Leader’s position on 4724 has not changed.”
The bill sits in the Government Operations Committee, where the Senate often sends bills to languish.
Many election clerks across Michigan are already concerned about the impact of the straight-ticket ban on voting lines and are hoping that no-excuse absentee would alleviate some of the pressure. But given that the two chambers are somewhat divided on the topic – and the fact that we are now in an election year, when partisan rhetoric often trumps rapprochement on a wide variety of issues, especially election laws – the push for no-excuse absentee could be difficult.
Stay tuned …