LANSING – In the wake of a botched primary election and a federal lawsuit against the state, Michigan must take immediate steps to make it easier for military and overseas voters to cast ballots, according to election law expert and military spouse Jocelyn Benson.
“When Michigan’s sons and daughters, husbands and wives put aside their safety to protect ours and serve in the military, it’s our responsibility to ensure that they can exercise their right to vote,” Benson said. “As the wife of a soldier currently serving in Afghanistan, I know all too well how much more our state needs to do to protect the voting rights of our military voters. But unfortunately it’s taken a federal lawsuit for the state to recognize that it is not doing enough to ensure that Michigan’s service members are able to enjoy the democratic freedoms they are fighting to protect. As the November election approaches, the time for platitudes and promises is over – and the time for action is now. I hope that every member of our state legislature does the right thing and supports these needed reforms that we are proposing today.”
The U.S. Justice Department sued the state of Michigan and its chief election officials, including Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, for failing to provide overseas voters with ballots in sufficient time for the primary election on Aug. 7. Clerks in at least 70 communities failed to meet the 45-day deadline. According to Stars and Stripes, this was the fifth time the federal government has taken action against Michigan since 1988.
Benson is working with Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer to propose three reforms that would go a long way toward making military voting a priority in Michigan:
- Implement statewide online voter registration, which would make it easier for troops stationed overseas to register to vote;
- Allow military ballots that are postmarked by Election Day to be counted — current Michigan law requires ballots to be received by Election Day; and
- Provide for the electronic return of ballots for overseas service members.
According to statistics from the Federal Voter Assistance Program, more than 112,000 military voters were unable to vote in 2010 because they never received ballots they requested — a 12 percent increase from 2008.
Iraq War veteran and candidate for state representative David Knezek joined Benson at today’s event.
“Having served two tours in Iraq, I can tell you it’s no easy task trying to vote when you’re halfway across the world,” Knezek said. “It’s complicated — even when you’re not in the middle of a firefight or off patrolling in a remote region. Even though there are difficulties, nearly all men and women in uniform want to exercise their right to vote. We need these reforms, and we also need a leader at the top that takes the time to train Michigan’s election officials and set the tone for why military voters should be a priority.”
In addition to seeking relief for those military voters that did not receive their ballots in time for the primary, the Department of Justice has requested that Michigan take the actions necessary to ensure it fully complies with federal law in future federal elections.