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Democrats renew push for no-reason absentee voting in Michigan

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Democratic state lawmakers are again hoping to allow no-reason absentee voting in Michigan. Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has said recently that more people who have died or moved out of state must be removed from the state's voter registration database before lawmakers will agree to stop putting conditions on who can vote absentee.The state Bureau of Elections says significant progress has been made to clean up Michigan's voter files.

"We are removing people from the files much more quickly than we did before and probably more thoroughly than we did before," Bureau of Elections Director Christopher Thomas told the state House Elections Committee last week.

Thomas says the bureau removed 170,000 people from Michigan's Qualified Voter File after the last election. Democrats say that's an indication that now is the time to move forward with no-reason absentee voting.

"Fine, if that's a problem, let's fix the problem. It sounds like the problem is fixed, and move forward," said state Rep. Gretchen Driskell, D-Saline, the top Democrat on the House Elections Committee, "but we're behind other states as far as accessing elections and making it easier for people to vote."

Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons chairs the panel. She says she's open to taking up the issue this term.

"I know there's different ways and different ideas out there as to how that would be actually executed," said Lyons. "And so, the details are going to be what matters in terms of what we take up, what we don't take up, if we take something up."

Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, has introduced a package of bills in the state Senate meant to make voting easier in Michigan, including a bill to allow no-reason absentee voting.

27 states and Washington DC already allow voters to cast absentee ballot for any reason.

Thomas says although Michigan sets conditions on who can vote absentee, the bureau does not attempt to make sure people are being honest about the reasons they select for voting absentee. For example, voters can declare that they will be out of town during an election and the state will take their word.

Jake Neher is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He covers the State Legislature and other political events in Lansing.
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