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My Take on Terri Lynn Land's Election Reform Plan

by: Hy Dudgeon

Fri Feb 03, 2006 at 14:50:07 PM EST

(One of these days, I'll get this routine down. - promoted by Hy Dudgeon)

Last Friday night, I ran across an AP story about Terri Lynn Land's proposals for election reform. Being a politics wonk, I printed out  "Election Reform for Michigan," (10 pages, pdf), poured out a cold beverage, and read her plan.

Overall, I gave the Secretary of State a B-minus for her proposals. Let's look at them one by one.

Hy Dudgeon :: My Take on Terri Lynn Land's Election Reform Plan
1. Pre-registering 16-year-olds to vote. It's in effect an extension of the "motor voter" law, tying registration to getting one's first graduated driver's license. A good idea in principle, but what if the young voter moves?

2. Allowing first-time voters to present ID anywhere in the state. A step in the right direction, but only a partial solution. It keeps in place the unfair law that requires a person to vote at the same address shown on his or her driver's license. That law forces many college students to vote where their parents live, whether or not they have any connection with that community. It also might have elected Mike Rogers to Congress by a razor-thin margin in 2000.

3. Create an "inactive" voter file. This is basically a cost-saving measure, since an inactive voter doesn't drop off the voter rolls outright.

4. Closer scrutiny of third-party groups that register voters. Land's proposal focuses on phony registrations. However, it doesn't specifically address the "Nathan Sproul problem." In 2004, Sproul, a Republican operative, allegedly headed voter-registration efforts in which GOP registrations were turned over to election officials but Democratic registrations ended up in the circular file.

5. Clearer rules regarding assisting absentee voters. This is aimed primarily at former Detroit City Clerk Jackie Currie's "ambassadors," who solicited votes for Currie and other candidates.

6. Create permanent absentee voter lists. This proposal puts a stop to the widespread but illegal practice in some communities: clerks automatically send absentee ballot applications to voters who had asked for them in the past. But it does allow voters to opt into a permanent absentee voter list, so it's largely a wash.

7. Eliminate the notarization requirement for absentee votes cast overseas. Why we still have notaries public in the 21st century makes no sense to me. Any reform that gets them out of the loop is a step in the right direction.

8. Hold special elections on the next consolidated election date. She should have gone further and made special elections mandatory rather than discretionary. And to keep poor districts like Pontiac from being disenfranchised after a seat becomes vacant, the state ought to pick up the tab for the election. Voters deserve to be represented.

9. Make write-in candidates file earlier. Land's proposal would require would-be write-in candidates file their declaration the Tuesday before the election rather than the Friday before.

10. Institute early in-person voting. About time. A majority of states now have it.

11. Create "super precincts" on a pilot basis. What isn't clear is whether these larger precincts would exist in addition to those already in existence. If they replace existing ones, the reform might make it harder for those without transportation to vote.

12. Move toward an electronic poll book. Good in principle, but let's hope the poll book is more reliable than, say, the "no fly" list.

13. Crack down on organizations that disrupt polling places. It's hard to disagree with that reform, but how even will enforcement be? The Republicans are gearing up for a "ballot security" initiative aimed primarily at Detroit that has the potential to become a voter-suppression effort.

14. Require photo ID to vote. The worst proposal in Land's program. She argues that the photo-ID requirement would "speed up the process," but it could become a de facto poll tax if Michiganders without ID have to pay to get one. Even if the state issues free ID cards, the requirement could disenfranchise the poor and elderly if the cards are difficult to get.

15. Allow the Secretary of State to ask for State Police assistance. Basically a non-issue, as the State Police took custody of Detroit's ballots after last year's election.

16. Tighten qualifications for members of the State Board of Canvassers. It's not clear how requiring at least one canvasser from each party to be a former election official would promote the integrity of elections. Don't the canvassers have staff? One other issue: Land sidesteps the bigger issue of what role the canvassers should play in certifying ballot proposals. That issue that came up in connection with the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.

17. Transfer local canassers' duties to county boards. The intent is to promote consistency and eliminate duplication.

18. Eliminate frivolous recounts. Land proposes to increase the recount fee from $10 per precinct to $25 per precinct when the vote differential is less than one percent or 30 votes. What's missing is an automatic-recount provision for really close elections, like the 1990 governor's race. Mandatory recounts should be done on the state's dime, too.

19. Conduct random audits of precincts after elections. It's a good quality-control measure, but doesn't go far enough. If a random audit shows a large enough discrepancy, it should trigger an automatic recount.

20. Make it harder to amend the state constitution via petitions. Some terrible amendments have gotten on the ballot over the years, and some of them have passed, but Land's proposal reflects a distrust of the voters by having proposals vetted by the state treasurer, both houses' fiscal agencies, the Director of Elections, and the Board of State Canvassers. Sounds like overkill.

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You're a brave man
for wading through the legalese and making it understandable for mere mortals.

Most of these proposals are either neutral, or democrat-unfriendly.  I really don't see anything that would keep the GOP from doing business as usual.  I see it as a way for them to get out in front of the issue so dems can't step in and call for their own reforms.

In 2004 I was in the post office and there was an MSU student in front of me sending her absentee ballot down to Detroit where her family lived.  It was three days before the deadline and she asked whether first class would get it there in time.  The window clerk said the only way he could guarantee it would be express mail, and she sighed, popped for the $12, turned to me and said, "If Bush wins again, I'm leaving the country."  Granted, she had waited till the last minute, but making voting harder on young people isn't in this country's best interest.

I'm not that eartha - or that one either

"Steal This Vote"
That isn't an exhortation but the name of a book by Andrew Gumbel, the U.S. correspondent for the British paper The Independent. Gumbel's book is a good rundown of election fraud in America, and is highly critical of the way we run our elections here. Heading his list of complaints is the incompetence--and sometimes the out-and-out corruption--of state and local election officials. Right behind that is the belief by lawmakers and election officials that buying high-tech voting gizmos will make elections any more honest or reliable. Highly recommended reading.

A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul.

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