Lori's Opinion for Fair and Free Voting

DJJ core leader, Lori Lutz, wrote an opinion for the Detroit Jews News a few days ago protesting the approval of strict voter identification bills in the Michigan House. Before the article went to print, the legislature decided not to take up the laws due to a massive public outcry and hundreds of calls and messages, including many from our DJJ network. So we are no longer printing Lori's piece in the DJN - but since it is brilliant and important, we wanted to offer it here. In this case, we are glad we did work for no reason! Yasher koach, Lori, and a good reminder to us all that when we raise our voices together, we can win. 

 

For the last 5 elections, I have been privileged to engage in voter protection efforts here in Michigan.  The goal of voter protection work is to observe and assist at the polls, prevent intimidation, harassment, or improper challenger activity, and to ensure that everyone who should be allowed to vote is allowed to vote and that every vote counts.

One would think that given how fundamental the right to vote is to the whole concept of democracy that voting laws would be written to make voting as accessible as possible and to encourage citizens to vote.  Unfortunately for democracy—as practiced here in Michigan—this is not the case.  Voting laws—from registration to identification to location to the marking and casting of ballots—are so complicated that they merit an entire area of the law—election law.  

And—unless we speak out quickly, loudly, and clearly, our voting law is about to get even more complicated—and will make it even more difficult for thousands of Michigan residents to exercise their right to vote.  Since 2007, Michigan has required that a voter present picture ID in order to vote; however, should a voter not have such picture identification in possession at the voting poll, the voter may sign an affidavit so attesting and once having done so, the voter must be allowed to vote.  This process is commonly called an “affidavit ballot”.  (It should be noted the affidavit ballot procedure does not resolve all issues, like voters not appearing on the rolls or additional federal ID requirements—these present their own hoops to pass in order for someone to be able to cast a vote that counts.)  
Last week, in its lame duck session, our state House introduced three bills designed to eliminate the right to cast an affidavit ballot.  And late Wednesday night, the House passed HB 6066, a strict photo ID bill that would require virtually all voters to present photo ID before casting their ballot on election day. The practical effect of these bills will be to disenfranchise the vast majority of eligible voters who don't have ID or show up on election day without it.  In this past November’s election, that was over 18,000 registered Michigan voters.  Why don’t people have picture identification?  Obtaining picture ID is not always easy, particularly for people living in already marginalized communities; government-issued ID’s can be cost-prohibitive and obtaining them often requires first obtaining other documents and figuring out how to navigate all of this can be confusing and time-consuming.     

I have seen firsthand the joy of a college student registering to vote on her 18th birthday, of a new American firmly say out loud while completing his voter registration application, “Yes, I am a U.S. citizen!”, of a woman pulling me aside to confide that 20 years ago, she had a felony conviction and had been led to believe she had forever forfeited her right to vote and seeing the complete change in her demeanor upon learning that she could absolutely register to vote.  Voting absolutely matters; it is an act of participation in something bigger; it is an act of affirmation of being an American; when we vote, we feel we matter and we feel that democracy matters.

Our state government should be seeking ways to encourage more voters and supporting real, proven solutions that would make Michigan's elections more secure, accurate, and modern such as online voter registration, no reason absentee voting, early voting and election-day voter registration. What they surely shouldn’t be doing is hastily enacting legislation that serves no purpose other than creating yet one more obstacle to our fellow Michiganders exercising their right to vote.  I urge our Jewish community to join me and Detroit Jews for Justice in sending a clear message to our legislature and governor that we vigorously oppose enactment of House Bill 6066.

Lori_Lutz_photo_(1).jpgLori Lutz is a core DJJ leader, a native of metro Detroit, and a resident of Oakland County. She is the associate director of the Roeper Institute.

 


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