Absentee ballots and voting

 Last week Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced that her office was mailing absentee ballot applications to all registered Michigan voters for this year’s primary and general elections so that Michiganders wouldn’t have to choose between their health and their right to vote.

The announcement was criticized by President Donald Trump who called the decision unwarranted, an opportunity for fraud, and threatened to withhold funding for Michigan.

Certainly there are two sides to this, but since the topic has been raised, this is an ideal time to talk about absentee ballots. So here goes.

Absentee ballots trace their roots back to the Civil War when they were used by approximately 150,000 union soldiers to vote in the 1864 presidential election and has continued for the military since then by federal law.

In the late 1800s, absentee ballot voting was expanded to include civilians when individual states began enacting new voting laws.

Today all states provide for some form of absentee voting for everybody.

Originally, state laws required a valid excuse to vote absentee.

Now 29 states (including Michigan) and the District of Columbia do not require an excuse. Sixteen states require one and five states (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington) have an “all mail” voting system.

This entails all voters receiving their ballots automatically by mail and either returning them by mail or personally delivering them by the date of the election.

In person voting remains an option.

Because of the pandemic, a number of states have decided to mail absentee ballot applications to all voters for their primary and/or general elections without a request.

On a related note, last week a lawsuit was filed in the Michigan Court of Claims seeking to expand our no excuse absentee voting law to require all these ballots to be counted as long as they are mailed on or before election day and received within six days thereafter.

I’ll stop here and simply say absentee ballots are certainly in the news and it is possible that there will be more absentee voting this year than ever before.

The importance of voting can’t be forgotten.

Indeed Thomas Jefferson once said “We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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