Politics & Government
8:24 am
Wed October 24, 2012

Commentary: Should we have early voting?

If you are a politician, or promoting one of the ballot proposals and want to influence my vote, don’t waste your time.

I voted a week ago, by absentee ballot, even though I may be home on election day. I can do that because I am 60 years old. Hey, you should be able to get some benefit out of being 60.

But here’s the thing. Unless you are my age or older, you can’t legally get an absentee ballot, except in a very few cases, mostly if you know you are going to be in jail on election day, or out of town.

Michigan has no early voting.  Most states do. Across the nation, millions of people already have voted. In Ohio, you can go vote now, for example, during certain days and at certain times.

So should Michigan have early voting?  Nobody wants to admit this, but it is a partisan question.  Republicans generally want as few people to vote as possible. As a rough rule of thumb, the higher the turnout, the worse they do. They don’t want to make it easier for the poor and poorly educated and immigrants to vote, largely because they won’t vote for them.

Democrats are the opposite. They want every disadvantaged person to cast a ballot, no questions asked. That‘s why they are fighting the requirement that you show a photo ID to vote. Some people with questionable pasts don‘t have one, and others don‘t want to show one.

My feeling as a long-time independent observer of Michigan politics, is that there is a lot wrong with both attitudes.

Sorry, Democrats: In a world where we need ID to buy a drink or write a check, showing identification in order to participate in democracy’s most sacred ritual is just common sense.

And sorry, Republicans. As your own Governor Rick Snyder said recently, we are supposed to be making it easier, not harder, to vote. There are lots of people who suddenly may not find it easy to get to their polling places on Tuesday.

But there are problems with early voting, too. Twelve years ago, Missouri voters elected Mel Carnahan to the U.S. Senate. Trouble was, he was dead, having been killed in a plane crash weeks before. Also -- issues can come up late in a campaign that might change a voter’s mind. 

And there’s a bigger problem. This year’s Michigan ballot is too long, too complex, and has far too many candidates and proposals for anyone to figure out while standing in a booth.

We need intelligent, informed voters, and there are two states in the union that handle elections right. Washington and Oregon mail a ballot to every voter; you fill it out and mail it back in. That gives voters time to do their homework, study the proposals and candidates and make informed decisions. 

If you really believe in democracy, this is the way.  Look. Can you go into the voting booth and really automatically pick the best candidates for your local community college trustees? Or probate judge, for that matter? I certainly can’t.

There’ll be more statewide elections two years from now. If you think I’m making sense, you might want to let your lawmakers know how you feel.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.