- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 6, 2016

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said Wednesday that it is “imperative” that voters be able to cast an absentee ballot for any reason now that the straight-party voting option has been eliminated from ballots.

Johnson told The Associated Press that enacting no-reason absentee voting legislation would alleviate local clerks’ fears of longer lines caused by people needing more time to vote. Gov. Rick Snyder endorsed the bill Tuesday while approving the removal of the straight-ticket option.

Johnson, a Republican, said she would have liked it if the GOP governor could have signed the bills together, but stopped short of criticizing his decision and welcomed his request that lawmakers next expand absentee voting. She said that while there are “some good reasons” to do away with straight-party voting, the GOP-led Senate should vote on the House-passed bill to let people vote in absentia without needing to meet specific criteria.

“My concern is that the clerks believe that it’ll make the lines longer, so to me it’s imperative that the Senate has a vote on secure absentee voting. They go together,” Johnson said.

Absentee voters currently must be at least 60 years old, 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. Under the legislation, those choosing the no-reason option would have to show ID and request an application in person every election.

Johnson said the measure, combined with her efforts to clean up the state’s voter list and conduct postelection audits, should address any concerns that expanded absentee voting could lead to fraud. Senate Elections and Government Reform Committee Chairman David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, has also said he opposes no-reason absentee 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.”

Johnson countered that people have busy lives, work long hours and deserve the flexibility to vote before Election Day.

In December, the GOP-controlled House approved the no-reason absentee voting legislation 59-46 after inserting a provision saying the straight-ticket bill could not become law unless the absentee ballot measure was enacted, too. The Senate, however, uncoupled the bills and the Legislature ultimately sent Snyder only the straight-party repeal legislation.

“I won’t quit,” Johnson said. “I think it’s necessary and I’m willing to spend the rest of the time I have in office to push it. But I’m hoping that we can get it taken care of this year.”

The law eliminating the straight-ticket option includes $5 million for voting equipment. Asked if the money is adequate to address concerns about longer waits, Johnson said “it’s a good start” but added that the state needs approximately $50 million to replace paper-ballot machines that are more than 10 years old.

She said the state has saved $25 million in federal funds to help buy its next-generation voting system. The $5 million appropriation - which makes the law immune from a voter referendum and drew the ire of Democrats - is intended for the replacement of equipment, not to add more, Johnson said.

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


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