- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Republicans’ push to eliminate Michigan’s straight-party voting option may improve the odds of voters being allowed to cast an absentee ballot for any reason.

A key lawmaker is pushing for House passage of her “no-reason” absentee bill in the coming week. The legislation would let all voters apply for an absentee application in person at their local clerk’s office without needing an excuse.

Under current law, absentee voters must be 60 years or older, be out of town when the polls are open, be an election worker or be unable to vote on Election Day due to a physical disability, religious tenets or incarceration.

House Elections Committee Chairwoman Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, said her bill would alleviate potential longer lines if voters are prohibited from voting a straight ticket of one party’s candidate with a single mark. The GOP-controlled Senate last month OK’d ending the straight-party option. Lyons’ panel heard testimony on the straight-ticket legislation Thursday but did not vote, a day after moving the no-excuse absentee voting bill to the House floor.

“They complement one another and I’d like to see them moved and enacted together,” Lyons said. Expanding absentee voting, she said, would keep voters from lying about their whereabouts on Election Day.

Election clerks, who support the convenience of straight-party voting and worry about confusion, wait times and down-ballot drop-off if the option goes away, said they would be more open to its elimination if no-reason absentee voting is authorized.

Lyons’ bill would not let “no-reason” voters ask for a ballot by mail. They would have to visit the clerk in person within 75 days of every election.

Currently, absentee voters who satisfy one of the six requirements can request to be placed on a permanent list so they automatically are mailed an application in future elections.

“That’s still disenfranchising the voters,” Walker City Clerk Sarah Bydalek said of requiring repeated in-person requests by voters seeking the no-excuse option. “It just doesn’t make sense that we have to make it difficult for people to vote in Michigan, especially when there’s 32 states currently that have no-reason absentee. Why can’t we be one of them?”

Democrats agree, saying the bill would offer a weak form of no-reason absentee voting. Lyons countered that the proposal, which is backed by Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, would provide more safeguards than other states’ systems.

Johnson’s two predecessors, also Republicans, supported no-reason absentee voting. GOP Gov. Rick Snyder has endorsed the concept.

Even if the bill clears the House, Senate Republicans may block it.

“The Senate is very supportive of the straight-ticket elimination, not so much on the no-reason absentee,” Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said.

Senate Elections and Government Reform Committee Chairman David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, has said he opposes expanded early voting because voting should not be “effortless” and candidates should have time to “fully develop their candidacies and fully develop the issues of those candidacies.”

He introduced new legislation Thursday that would prevent clerk’s offices from being open on weekends to process absent voter applications or issue ballots, except the Saturday before an election, and prohibit such functions at satellite locations. The wide-ranging bill also would stop clerks from cross-deputizing each other to help college students register in person without having to drive home and allow poll challengers inside clerk’s offices up to 45 days before an election.

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Online:

House Bill 4724: http://1.usa.gov/1O8jcl0

Senate Bill 639: http://1.usa.gov/21CShro

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Follow David Eggert at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/david-eggert

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