It's time for Michigan to make a bold move to vote by mail

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A microscopic attacker has invaded our state, threatening not only our health and well-being, but the fundamental roots of our democracy. 

During a pandemic, no citizen should ever be forced to choose between their health — and possibly their lives — and going to the polls to vote on Election Day.

The conditions at polling locations are ideal for infecting everyone present: crowded precincts and lines lead to close voter contact, the virus can be transmitted through markers, voter applications and ballots, and the air in tiny voting booths can easily be contaminated.

Polling locations clearly endanger not only voters but also places election workers — most of whom are seniors — in a high-exposure, contained “virus zone” for up to 16 hours! Given that stark reality, will cities and townships be able to recruit enough election workers to even staff the polls? How do we conduct elections under these circumstances? 

Just as viruses mutate and adapt to changing conditions in order to survive, election laws can change and our society adapt to a revised method of elections, ensuring our democracy not only survives during a pandemic, but also evolves to an easier, more convenient and secure form of voting. 

Surprisingly, the solution — vote by mail — is already used by Michigan voters! By fine-tuning and expanding it, we will have a pandemic-proof election system in place for the November 3 General Election. 

Oregon has been voting by mail exclusively for 20 years.  It’s time-tested and works like a charm.  Here’s how simple it can be, adapted for Michigan:

1. All registered voters receive a ballot in the mail and have up to 40 days to vote.

2.  The return envelope (voted ballot inside) is signed by the voter and returned by mail, no postage needed. 

3. Voter identity verified through signature matching with official voter record.

4.  Voter can track the status of their ballots online and receive replacement ballots anytime, for any reason. 

The notion of a single “Election Day” disappears. Instead, there are 40 Election Days, with the last day used to tabulate the ballots. In my community of Meridian Township, for example: Why set up 19 polling locations for only one day — when voters can have 20,000 homes serve as polling locations for a full 40 days?

Polling locations are no longer needed. That may feel like a loss to some residents who hold a nostalgic image of bicycling or walking to their neighborhood school or church and waiting in line to vote. Voters who fear election fraud might believe that democracy is better protected by keeping polling locations open on Election Day.

However, two decades of Oregon voting data proves voter fraud is virtually non-existent, and the safety and security of ballots significantly increased, when voting by mail. The entire process of setting up remote voting locations, transporting voted ballots, training and regulating a workforce of 150+ workers — as well as deploying the voting equipment, computers and software needed to run these polling locations — are a much greater threat to election security than mail-in voting. The U.S. postal system is safe and secure, and online ballot tracking allows rare ballot delivery issues to be easily resolved.

This evolution in elections results in benefits that go beyond ensuring elections will never be compromised by the outbreak of a disease. Because it is so easy to vote, and everyone who is eligible to vote receives a ballot, voter turnout significantly increases, voter suppression and disenfranchisement are eliminated from our election process, and people with disabilities are given far easier access to a private and secure ballot when coupled with remote ballot marking systems.

It’s an incredible bipartisan victory for election reform advocates! Research shows that over time, neither D’s nor R’s gain an advantage and win more races, because the number of active voters for both parties both increase at about the same proportion as before voting by mail.

Fiscally speaking, local communities save significant tax dollars on not hiring precinct workers, as well as the elimination of numerous polling location expenses.  The State of Michigan pays for postage, so the cost is spread out to all citizens, just like the cost of maintaining the State Capitol, for example. Overall, costs increase modestly at the state level, but much of that is offset by substantial community reductions in expenses.

Mail voting works, and we need to act strongly and decisively now, in time for a pandemic-free November election. We can muster the political willpower to make the changes necessary to protect our democracy from invisible invaders, and evolve our elections to the next level. There is a time for bold legislative action … and that time is now! 

For more information on voting by mail, visit www.michigan-vote-by-mail.com

(Brett Dreyfus is the clerk for Meridian Township.)

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Mary

“The US Postal System is safe and secure?”

Sorry, Brett, that’s a very debatable assertion. I’m not convinced widespread vote by mail is trustworthy, and your rosy optimism is questionable, to say the least.

Thursday, May 28

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