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Voting by mail is a rising trend, but Michigan makes it harder than everywhere else

Oct 7, 2014

Well, the election is officially four weeks away, but not for me. I voted yesterday morning, in the best place possible, at my kitchen table.

I can legally do this, because I am more than 60 years old. If you reach that age, you qualify to be sent an absentee ballot through the mail, every election.

I won’t tell you for whom I voted, but I will tell you this: We’d be a better democracy if everyone could vote this way, if everyone got a ballot in the mail, took the time to study it, and then mailed it in.

Or as I do, drop it off at city hall.

Look, I’m big on tradition and nostalgia, and part of me liked standing in line at the polls with my neighbors to vote, as I did for many years. I remember once, years ago, when I knew that a candidate I despised was going to win by a landslide, but enjoyed standing there on a brilliant fall day knowing I would cast at least one vote he wouldn’t get.

We are the only state that makes voters under 60 give a reason for requesting an absentee ballot.

Yet these days I think that if you go to the polls, the odds are that you may end up voting irresponsibly, and here’s why:

There are far too many people running in far too many different contests these days. Far too many for just about anybody to know about, including me. Hey, I write about politics all the time. I knew about all the candidates running for the major offices and even for the state and university board of education seats.

But then I got further down my crowded absentee ballot and found a pile of people running for my local school board, my community college board, and a local race for district judge.

And I knew nothing about any of them.

Now, if I had been in a voting booth, I could have done what most people do, either ignore these races entirely, or vote for names that sounded comforting and familiar, like Kelly or Smith.

That’s not exactly casting a responsible ballot. Instead, I left my kitchen table, went upstairs to my office, and got online.

Half an hour later, thanks largely to the League of Women Voters and my local community newspaper, I felt I knew enough to make an educated decision in all these races.

Yes, I suppose I could have gotten a sample ballot, marked it up, stuck it in my pocket and taken it to the polls.

But how many people are going to do that? Nationally, more and more states are making voting by mail an option. These days, everybody in Washington and Oregon votes by mail.

Most people in Arizona, Montana, and nearly half in California do too. Michigan, however, makes it harder than anywhere else.

We are the only state that makes voters under 60 give a reason for requesting an absentee ballot. Secretary of State Ruth Johnson wants her fellow Republicans in the Legislature to allow everyone who wants an absentee ballot to get one, no questions asked. This would also, by the way, save the state money. If our lawmakers aren’t willing to do this, we should demand they explain why.

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.