Clerk reports fewer absentee voters, blames GOP lawsuit
If clerks mail fewer absent voter applications will there be fewer absentee votes? The Macomb County Clerk / Register of Deeds says the answer is obviously yes and the low number of absent ballots for the January 15 Presidential Primary proves it.
The Presidential Primary was the first statewide election clerks did not mass mail absent voter application forms (not ballots) to seniors. Most clerks stopped the practice as a result of confusion over two court cases: a Republican lawsuit that failed to end the routine practice of mass mailing absent voter applications in Macomb County and a recent Court of Appeals ruling that did halt the practice in Detroit that was applied statewide. As a result, AV ballot returns were lower for the Presidential Primary than in previous elections.
But the Macomb County Clerk / Register of Deeds believes she has a way for local clerks to comply with the law and benefit seniors.
Instead of clerks mailing absent voter applications to seniors on their own, the Macomb County Clerk asked them to do what several Oakland County clerks have done: seek approval from their legislative bodies to mail AV applications equally to all seniors for the August and November elections. In a January letter to all Macomb County clerks, the Macomb County Clerk asks them to do so.
"All seniors should be treated equally and all should be sent an absent voter application," said the Macomb County Clerk. "Voter turnout is reduced when clerks don't mail absent voter forms, and a lower turnout hurts our county's clout no matter what your party affiliation."
Until this year, it was the long-standing practice of all Oakland County clerks, many Macomb County clerks, the Detroit City Clerk, and others throughout the state to mass mail absent voter applications (not ballots) to all seniors in their jurisdictions.
But the Michigan Court of Appeals recently ruled in Taylor v Currie that the Detroit City Clerk must stop mass mailing absent voter applications (not ballots) to seniors in Detroit, unless the senior first requested one.
Last year, after the state Republican Party claimed it would suffer irreparable harm if the Macomb County Clerk mass mailed AV applications to seniors, the Macomb County Circuit Court ruled in Fleming v Sabaugh that the Macomb County Clerk can mass mail absent voter applications to all seniors because she first got approval from the county board of commissioners. The GOP, still trying to stop AV applications from being mass mailed to Macomb County seniors, has appealed to the Court of Appeals where the case is pending.
All clerks in Oakland County mass mailed AV applications prior to the Presidential Primary. The GOP did not sue any clerk in Oakland County for mass mailing AV applications, but did sue in Wayne and Macomb Counties. Oakland County has more Republican voters than Wayne or Macomb Counties.
As a result of confusion about the lawsuits, it is believed no Macomb County clerk mass mailed AV applications to seniors for the Presidential Primary and instead mailed to much smaller "permanent AV lists." The Macomb County Clerk says the lack of AV application mass mailings caused the low rate of absent votes. She says AV application returns were down, according to her online absent voter tracking system, the only one of its kind in Michigan, and according to conversations with local clerks.
For the January 15 Presidential Primary, despite national attention and hotly contested races, Clinton Township saw absent votes drop by over 50%. The state's largest township had only 3,056 absent ballots returned in the Presidential Primary. By contrast, in the 2006 November General Election the township had 10,549 absent ballots and in the August Primary there were 7,583. Countywide only 40,042 Macomb County voters returned absent ballots. By comparison, the countywide number for the November General Election was 77,119 absent ballots and in the August 2006 Primary Election 43,726 were returned. It is unclear what effect, if any, fewer absent voters had on the recent Presidential Primary, but in a close election, even one percentage point in voter turnout could make a big difference.
The Macomb County Clerk is encouraging Macomb County clerks to follow the lead of the Oakland County city councils in Birmingham, Farmington Hills, and Troy that recently passed resolutions authorizing the Oakland County local clerks to mass mail absent voter application forms to seniors in those areas.
In response to the Macomb County Clerk's letter, the Village of Romeo already passed a resolution directing AV applications to be mailed to all seniors. The Roseville City Council will consider a similar resolution to help that city's seniors this Tuesday.
"A little village showed a lot of leadership," said the Macomb County Clerk. "I hope all clerks in Macomb County will stand up for seniors like the Village of Romeo did by asking their city councils and township boards to mail absent voter applications to seniors so all have an equal opportunity to vote for President."
EDITOR: The following is available on the Macomb County Clerk web site, http://macombgov.org/Clerk-Home :
CLICK HERE for Fleming v Sabaugh Macomb County Circuit Court decision giving the ok to mass mail AV applications to seniors with board approval,
CLICK HERE for the Macomb County Clerk's recent letter to Macomb County's local clerks asking them to seek local resolutions to mass mail AV applications to seniors, and
CLICK HERE for sample resolution regarding absent voter application forms.
Out of State: 310-575-5035