The Lansing State Journal editorial board correctly opined that it is time for Michigan to join 29 other states in passing "no-reason" absentee voting.
However, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson's "Safe and Fair" initiative is not the vehicle to do that. Some of the reforms she calls for will limit, not expand, Michiganders' access to the polls.
The SAFE initiative would place burdensome requirements on voters who wish to vote absentee.
For example, if the Department of State has reason to believe a voter has moved out of the state -- to attend college and has every right to vote in Michigan -- they can place that voter on an "inactive" list and challenge that voter's absentee vote.
Once a ballot is challenged, the voter must provide additional evidence that he or she is legally able to vote in Michigan before his or her ballot is counted -- a burden that will discourage many young people in college from voting.
Equally alarming is the requirement Secretary Johnson wants to place on any organization that helps voters to register.
Her proposed legislation creates onerous requirements on groups holding voter registration drives.
They will be required to register with the Department of State, attend training, and have each staff member or volunteer sign an affidavit in order to register voters.
It also requires registration forms to be returned "promptly" to the state without defining "promptly" -- a concern because a violation could result in criminal penalties. In addition, completed voter registration forms must be returned within 24 hours the last seven days before the voter registration period ends -- an unrealistic and unnecessary time frame for volunteers.
Failure to comply could result in criminal penalties.
Florida passed similar legislation this year, and as a result of the law, the League of Women Voters of Florida, an organization that has been registering thousands of Floridians to vote for more than 70 years, decided to end its voter registration operation.
In fact, a teacher in Florida faces up to $1,000 in fines after holding voter registration drives at the high school where she teaches because she unknowingly failed to register with the state and did not submit the completed voter registration forms within the 48 hours the law requires there.
This legislation only makes it harder for those who already face barriers to voting.
Instead of proposing legislation to make it more difficult to register and to vote, Secretary Johnson and the Legislature should be sponsoring legislation that will expand participation among Michigan voters.
Legislators should instead consider allowing busy Michiganders to register to vote up to and on Election Day like they do in Wisconsin and Minnesota, providing early voting options like in Ohio, and allowing for online voter registration like in Kansas and Colorado. These all would make elections more cost efficient, reduce lines on Election Day and increase participation.
If legislators are serious about improving Michigan elections, they should start with these changes, not those proposed by Secretary Johnson.
About the author: Robert M. Brandon is president of the Fair Elections Legal Network, a nonpartisan advocacy organization that works to remove barriers to registration and voting.
About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include biographical information and a photo.