Friday, April 16, 2010
Clerks Who Led Fight to Improve Military Voting Cheer Passage of Bills,
Urge Governor to Sign Legislation As Soon As Possible
Oakland County Clerk Ruth Johnson, who led the fight to make sure the votes of overseas military personnel get home in time to be counted, congratulated lawmakers this week for passing legislation to streamline that voting.
"These men and women put everything on the line for us--we have to make sure their right to vote is protected here at home," said Johnson, who launched OPERATION: Our Troops Count in July of 2009 with Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh and Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett.
Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh said the push behind the bills took a lot of time and energy, but the goal was so worth it. "Oakland County Clerk Ruth Johnson and I believed we had to make sure those fighting for democracy could participate in it," Sabaugh said. "It can be done with existing technology while cutting taxpayer postage costs.
Bill 5279 sponsored by state Rep. Vince Gregory (D-Southfield) and Bill 5530 sponsored by state Rep. Roger Kahn, (R-Saginaw Township) will streamline the voting process for military personnel stationed overseas.
"This was a bipartisan effort from the start," said Johnson. "It wasn't about politics--it was about doing the right thing for people who are away from their families, fighting for our country and defending democracy overseas."
Gregory acknowledged Johnson's role in streamlining military voting. His bill allows local clerks to e-mail ballots to military personnel overseas, reducing mailing delays and helping to ensure troops can fill out their ballots and mail them back home as soon as possible. He said the bill may be signed by Gov. Granholm as early as next week.
"This bill was passed largely due to the support of the three Tri-County Clerks, but especially Ruth Johnson, who worked with both the House, the Senate and myself to get this bill done," said Gregory. "Ruth was instrumental and I do appreciate that."
Kahn's bill requires all absentee ballots be delivered to local clerks for distribution at least 45 days before an election.
Michigan was scolded in a national 2009 report for failing overseas troops. The report said the state didn't provide enough time for troops to get their ballots back to Michigan in time to be counted. Largely the issue was overseas mailing delays.
"This is a common sense answer that puts proven technology to work, will save expensive postage for local communities and maintain integrity in the voting process," said Johnson.
Local clerks have testified previously that ballots from overseas troops trickle in the days and even weeks after an election, too late to be counted. Of 21,299 absentee ballots requested by Michigan overseas/military voters for the historic November 2008 election, nearly 6,000 were never returned or returned too late to be counted. Veterans organizations across the state have applauded Johnson's efforts.
"Mrs. Johnson was determined to make sure the men and women serving their country overseas were able to vote and have that vote count - an issue that had largely been ignored across the state," Carnie Jackson, State Commander of the Michigan American Legion, has written. "I can't commend her enough for all her hard work."