Friday, July 3, 2009
Bill makes voting easier for soldiers overseas
By Chad Selweski, Macomb Daily Staff Writer
On more than one occasion, U.S. Air Force Sgt. Laura Rios wanted to exercise the privilege most Americans take for granted: voting.
But when she was stationed overseas, that task was anything but simple.
Because Michigan election laws require ballots to be mailed to and from servicemen and women stationed overseas — and because overseas mail is notoriously unreliable — Rios found the exercise futile.
"I'd (receive) it the day it was due," said Rios, a Macomb Township resident. "My vote (wouldn't) count."
She wasn't alone. According to Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh, 29 percent of the absentee ballots cast by military personnel overseas did not arrive in time to be counted in last November's presidential election.
"These are men and women often risking their lives to protect our freedom," said Ruth Johnson, Oakland County clerk. "We have to step up and make sure their right to vote is protected here at home."
Johnson, with help from Sabaugh and Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett, are pushing proposed legislation that would permit clerks to use electronic means — e-mail and fax machines — to send absentee ballots to Americans abroad.
Voters would then print the ballots, make their choices and mail the completed ballot back. The clerks maintain the technology would reduce significantly the time required to complete the process and help ensure that military members' votes are received in time to be counted.
A report by the nonpartisan Pew Center illustrated the problem. In states where ballots are transmitted electronically — New Mexico, for example — the turnaround time from a request for an overseas absentee ballot to it being received and processed can be as little as eight days.
Macomb Daily staff photo by David N. Posavetz
Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh, at podium, speaks about the need for streamlined absentee voting for overseas military personnel. She is joined by, left, David Springsteen, deputy chief of staff for the Wayne County clerk; state Rep. Vince Gregory; and Ruth Johnson, Oakland County clerk.
In Michigan, the process can take as long as 57 days, the Pew Center reported.
"Michigan's out-of-date system simply doesn't allow enough time to vote," Johnson said.
According to the clerks, implementation of a system similar to New Mexico's would also reduce postage costs for local cities and townships and could be implemented at no additional cost to taxpayers.
The clerks also said the ballots would be as secure as those absentee ballots mailed domestically. The ballots would still require signature verification to prevent voter fraud.
"The U.S. military transmits intelligence reports, battle plans and even personal family messages securely around the world in seconds," Sabaugh said.
"But state law bureaucracy currently blocks elections officials from securely transmitting absentee voter application forms to soldiers, preventing some who are fighting for our democracy from participating in it."
State Reps. Vince Gregory, D-Southfield, and Jon Switalski, D-Warren, will push the bill in Lansing.
"We will move this issue as soon as possible," Gregory said.
That would please Rios and her comrades.
"It's very frustrating," she said. "I want my vote to count."