Michigan GOPer on ballot access: “voting should not be effortless”

The latest in the ongoing saga of conservatives propagating a fundamentally different definition of democracy than the rest of us.

Dave Robertson, the Republican chairman of Michigan’s Senate Elections and Government Reform Committee, is opposing a bill that would provide for no-excuse absentee voting not because he’s worried that it will lead to fraud or will complicate the electoral process, but rather because he is ideologically opposed to making voting easier. From Electablog (emphasis theirs):

In discussing his opposition to a bill allowing “no-excuse” absentee voting, Robertson recently said, “I believe voting should not be effortless.” The “no-excuse” absentee voting legislation is actually a Republican bill that is sponsored by Lisa Posthumus Lyons, the chair of the House Elections Committee.

In response to her bill, last Thursday Robertson introduced his own legislation to make it harder than ever to vote via absentee ballot.

As the chairman of the Michigan Senate’s Elections and Government Reform Committee, Robertson is a crucial veto point when it comes to ballot access in Michigan. What he says doesn’t necessarily go, but what he says doesn’t go really doesn’t go. That means Michigan voters — even the Republicans who are on board with the idea — can kiss no-excuse absentee voting goodbye as long as he’s at his post.

What’s more, Robertson’s replacement bill goes out of its way to restrict voting rights — again, out of an ideological belief that voting should be hard. From the Detroit Free Press:

Can't Vote, via Daniel Lobo / Flickr

Can’t Vote, via Daniel Lobo / Flickr

State Sen. David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, wants to prohibit clerks from opening their offices on weekends in the four weeks leading up to elections to hand out, process and accept absentee ballots.

He also wants the main office for local clerks, rather than satellite offices, to be the only place where absentee ballots can be processed. Currently, thousands of people vote by absentee ballot in the days and weekends leading up to the elections. And big cities like Detroit and Lansing offer satellite offices for people who can’t make it to the main clerk’s office to vote.

As Electablog adds:

The bill also makes it more difficult for a first-time voter to become eligible to vote if they register to vote by mail, forbids municipal clerks from deputizing others to check the identification of first-time voters trying to vote absentee, allows poll challengers to challenge a person’s eligibility to vote up to 45 days before Election Day (currently this can only happen on Election Day), and extends the prohibition of election materials with 100 feet of polling places to 45 days before the election.

The idea that voting should be difficult isn’t all that uncommon in American history. That said, the history of voting rights in the United States was, until very recently, a steady removal of barriers to the franchise. When the Constitution was first ratified, voting was extremely difficult — impossible for everyone except white, male landowners. However, our current conception of democracy — the one we have operated under since the passage of the Voting Rights Act — is somewhat more hostile to explicit barriers to ballot access. That is, ones that are designed and implemented with the same discriminatory intent as that of the Founders.

You can make a defensible case in the abstract for applying some kind of sophistication requirement in order to vote, such as a candidate position or general political knowledge test, but in practice such requirements have led to overt discrimination. They’re antithetical to modern American democracy.

However, that isn’t even the kind of barrier to ballot access Robertson is proposing. He doesn’t want to require voters to demonstrate that they know the full consequences of their votes before their ballots are cast, which can at least be claimed to be race, gender and class neutral. Instead, he wants to make it harder for them to obtain and cast their ballots in the first place. He isn’t proposing a sophistication barrier; he’s proposing an access barrier, and access barriers are nearly impossible to defend without endorsing discrimination in the electoral process on the basis of class and, by extension, race. To take Robertson’s bill as an example, limiting absentee ballot processing to central offices on weekdays affects low-income voters — which in Michigan means a disproportionate number of black voters in big cities — to a much greater degree than it affects wealthier, whiter voters.

All this is to say, again, that legal election-rigging has become a pillar of conservative ideology. When it’s necessary or convenient, they’ll pay lip service to election integrity, but the underlying goal is and has always been pushing back against a slow, steady march of progress in ballot access expansion.

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that would erode that progress even more.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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5 Responses to “Michigan GOPer on ballot access: “voting should not be effortless””

  1. Eclectablog says:

    (Pssst! Eclectablog, not Electablog ; )

  2. MoonDragon says:

    As a poll worker, I can say that, at least in PA, the returned absentee
    ballots are verified by signatures on the outer envelope by both the
    election office (county level) and at the poll by the judge of
    elections. The signed statement on the outer envelope (which contains
    the anonymous inner envelope with the voted ballot) is a legal document.
    Falsifying it carries a heavy penalty.

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  4. BeccaM says:

    I guess you haven’t had much personal experience with absentee voting. I have, during the years my wife and I lived overseas. The application process is not that easy, the opportunities for fraud extending beyond a single coopted vote are simply not present, the penalties for fraud are serious and severe, and actual documented absentee ballot fraud is basically non-existent.

    Just look at those restrictions the Michigan GOPer wants to impose, none of them serving even remotely a purpose to reduce fraud. The SOB simply wants it to be difficult for no other reason than to make voting difficult.

    And that isn’t fraud per se, but voter suppression.

  5. orogeny says:

    I’m opposed to anything that restricts in-person voting, but absentee voting is a different animal. While there is statistically no fraud found in in-person voting, absentee balloting is an invitation to fraud

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