Jul 31, 2007

Supporter of no reason absentee ballot does flip-flop

One of the biggest supporters of “no reason” absentee ballots did a flip-flop and voted against it the House Ethics and Elections committee last week, apparently in the name of keeping voter turnout low.

Last week the committee voted out House Bill 4048, introduced on Jan. 22 by Rep. Martin Griffin, D-Jackson, that will allow anyone to get an absentee ballot at their local clerk’s office for no reason. Currently, there are only six reasons that the law allows people to vote absentee, including a physical disability and requires assistance when attending the polls, has religious tenets that prohibit attendance at the polls, is an election precinct inspector in another precinct, is 60 years of age or older, will be absent from home on election day or cannot attend the polls because of being in jail awaiting arraignment or trial. This bill will allow anyone to get an absentee ballot.

But Subscription only MIRS reported that Rep. Chris Ward, R-Brighton, “no longer supports no reason absentee voting by mail, a change that could make an
upcoming vote on the issue break down along party lines.” Ward is the House Minority Floor Leader and the former clerk in Brighton Township, and as such he is “the leading GOP caucus voice on elections and related reforms.”

"We've spent $10 million on new voting machines that catch people's mistakes so they can correct them," Ward told MIRS. "The vast majority of spoiled ballots we see now are absentee voter ballots. A lot of people who mail their ballots in never even realize they won't be counted.”

Ward seems bent on keeping voter turnout down, a move unusual for any former clerk. With voter turnout not much over 30 percent of registered voters we should be eliminating barriers that keep people from voting not throwing more up. It was Ward that introduced a resolution that asked the Michigan Supreme Court to review the poll tax law that required a picture ID card to vote. On July 18 the Supreme Court voted 5-2 to disenfranchise a large number of voters when it upheld a 1996 law passed by Republicans that requires voters to show photo identification before casting their ballots.

It seems funny that Ward would have this change of heart when you look at who is endorsing this bill. Those supporting it include The Michigan Campaign Finance Network, The Michigan Association of County Clerks, The Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks, The League of Women Voters of Michigan and the Michigan Townships Association. When Ward was the clerk in Brighton Township he was also the President of the Livingston County Association of Municipal Clerks, which is also a member of the state association that supports this bill. The problem is Ward when Ward was the president of the local clerks association he was also the chair of the Livingston County Republican Party, and that party loyalty has always outweighed any other consideration.

When Ward was the chair of the House Oversight, Elections and Ethics Committee when Republicans controlled the House, he sponsored House Bill 4569 that would allow no reason absentee voting, and it was passed 57-51 on April 19, 2005. To show how much things have not changed in Lansing in the more than two years since the bill passed the House it died in the GOP-controlled Senate when it failed to act on the bill. Apparently, the Senate acts on neither bills sent to it by Republicans or Democrats.

Ward again introduced the same bill in the current session a few months after Griffin’s Bill when he introduced HB 4508 on March 22.

There is one big difference between Ward’s bill and the bill passed out of committee. Griffin’s bill allows everyone the same right to vote absentee, but Ward’s bill only allows you to get the bill with an ID card and then you must vote the ballot right there in the clerk’s office. How privacy is protected is apparently not one of Ward’s concerns.

What really explains the difference in these two bills is who supports them. The Republican Secretary of State, of course, supported Ward’s bill, but it’s neutral on Griffin’s bill. The League of Women Voters supports both bills, but the Michigan Association of County Clerks only supports Ward’s bill in concept where it has unqualified support for Griffin’s bill.

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