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October 08, 2008


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I'll set aside Jack Lessenberry's standard anti-Republican bias for a moment, to ask a simple question.

When Mr. Lessenberry wrote this, what did he mean, and what did he do to investigate the story?

I quote: "A friend of mine’s daughter wants to vote next month, but can't.
Why? She just turned 18 and is a freshman at a college in California. Her city clerk told her she had to show up in person to get an absentee ballot. She can’t afford to do that."
End quote.

Hmmmm, Mr. Lessenberry. There is a standard, state-form absentee voter ballot application on the State of Michigan website. Here it is:


You fill it out and mail it to your local clerk. They send you an absentee ballot, you fill it out and mail it back. There is no requirement, that I know of, that a registered voter appear in person for an absentee ballot.

Maybe, just maybe, I am wrong, and I will learn something here. (Is there a special requirement pertaining to newly-registered voters who have never before voted?!? I don't know; I kind of doubt it.) Or maybe, just maybe, Mr. Lessenberry is wrong and he promoted a false story on the Michgigan Radio website.

Anyway, I have a suggestion for Mr. Lessenberry's friend's daughter; vote in Nevada, dearie. Get in contact with ACORN, the far-left militant advocacy organization. You don't have to live in Nevada, apparently, although it might help if she is a player for the Dallas Cowboys:


[If all this sounds like a non-sequitur, or at best a story from The Onion, you must read the ACORN-Nevada story linked above.]

Okay, this is interesting. From the Michigan.gov/vote website:

"If you have never voted in Michigan and register by mail, you must appear in person to vote in the first election in which you wish to participate. This requirement does not apply if (1) you personally hand deliver the mail registration form to your county, city or township clerk's office instead of mailing the form (2) you are 60 years of age or more (3) you are disabled or (4) you are eligible to vote under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act."

So, sports fans, it appears that Mr. Lessenberry gave us an interesting, and mostly true, story. I'm sure glad I didn't call him a liar. This time.

It raises, however, another question. When did the poor suffering college freshman turn 18? She is barred from making a mail-in absentee ballot application ONLY if she also registered by mail.

It seems to me that the only way that this truly odd scenario works is if the clloge student in question turned 18 after she left Michigan, AND NEVER ONCE RETURNED TO MICHIGAN TO HAND-DELIVER HER REGISTRATION MATERIALS to her local clerk's office. And, knowing all of this, she apparently chose not to register where she is now enrolled in school and vote there.

I don't know. We let people vote without photo i.d. We let people vote as absentees, and we let them do just about everything related to voting by mail if they want to. Is it really too much, in attmepting to assure ourselves and state at large, that we have real, live people voting in elections, such that just once in the process we'd like to see a real person associated with a voter-name?

Yes, the young woman in question turned 18 after she left Michigan

So, Jack, what kind of broad demographic were we talking about in that anecdotal evidence of voter disenfranchisement? That large number of voters who left the state before their 18th birthday, and who never returned, and who registered to vote by mail, and who could not present an absentee ballot application in person, and who did not wish to register to vote where they were now attending school?

I'd like to get some numbers on the total number of (a) 18 year-olds with birthdays between about August 15 and October 6, 2008, and (b) who voluntarily left the state of Michigan during that entire period, with no way to return, and no intent or desire to register to vote in whatever place they were now living. Let's also discount all of the 18 year-old military enlistees, since the statute accounts for them in other ways.

This is what we have come to in terms of so-called voter disenfranchisement?

I like when others take a bite out of Jack's arse..lol,lol,lol

I would certainly not refer to a young woman as a broad demographic.

I guess I don't understand Mr. Lessenberry's last comment. (If he is now making a joke about women as "broads," I can say that I wasn't, and I can't even tell if he is, now.)

My main point was that we are talking about a very tiny number of people who are or would be inconvenienced by this rule, which apparently seeks to prevent voters from registering as new voters by mail and then obtaining an absentee ballot, also by mail, and thereby exposing the system to a very large potential for abuse. (Essentially, getting a chance to vote without ever having to had to present yourself as a real, live, breathing human being, anywhere, anytime.)

What I asserted is that the group affected by this rule is not a "broad demographic." It is not a large number of people, by any reckoning.

Frankly, I'm still not so sure that there might not be another way for this particular college freshman to get an absentee ballot, but I'll have to look on my own, it seems.

The problems caused by Rogers' Law do not affect only a tiny group of people. If you are a college student, chances are good that you are voting in your first election. You can't vote until you are 18, and it isn't likely that you will bother going home to vote or changing your registration or driver's license in order to vote in an election that involves nothing more than a few trustees or a library expansion millage. For many, many students, even if they are 20 0r 21, this is the first election in which they will bother to vote.

If it's your first election, you can't vote by absentee ballot. This means that unless you live in Ann Arbor, or East Lansing, or wherever your school is, you have to vote "live." That means that you must either drive home (possibly to the Upper Peninsula), change your license (a trip to the Secretary of State) or your voter registration card (a trip to City Hall). It is certainly not impossible for students to vote, but Rogers Law on top of the preexisting absentee ballot law places a number of impediments in the way. When you place impediments in the way of a group of people who tend not to be great long-range planners by virtue of their age, and who tend to be incredibly busy (especially in the middle of their first semester of school), it's reasonable to believe that many students will get to Election Day without having taken the necessary steps to vote. I personally believe that Mike Rogers was not aware of, and in fact counting on this effect when he proposed what has become "Rogers' Law" in 1999.

Annie wrote, "If it's your first election, you can't vote by absentee ballot."

That's untrue. If it is your first election, AND you registered by mail, AND you did not present an absentee ballot application in person, then, in that instance (freakishly rare, I submit, that someone would be forced into all of those scenaria) Annie is right. But only in that instance.

Still, as I mentioned above, you could always get in touch with ACORN, get yourself a fake i.d. (how many of those are there in East Lansing?) saying that you are Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys, and then you could vote to your heart's content. If you live in Chicago, you could probably vote four or five times.

I am a grad student at Michigan State. I have a Missouri driver's license, previously voted in Missouri, and was able to use that license to register to vote in Michigan (just got my voter ID card today). If what Mr. Lessenberry says about Rogers's Law is true, then how did my registration go through? Should I anticipate trouble at my local polling place?

As for Anon., I think these days it's more common for people to register to vote by mail than any other way. The people walking around towns, cities, and college campuses with clipboards are using the mail-in form.

College students leaving home for the first time may feel a connection to their hometown by voting absentee, but I think it makes more sense to register (or transfer registration) to one's current residence. Wouldn't you want to affect the laws and governance of the place you actually live?

Rogers is dead to me.

Dave wrote:

"As for Anon., I think these days it's more common for people to register to vote by mail than any other way. The people walking around towns, cities, and college campuses with clipboards are using the mail-in form."

Again, I reject the complaint. It may be popular to register new voters, young ones, at places like Ludacris concerts or other venues of intelligent public discourse. Utilizing mail-in registration forms, just as you say. But we are talking about the subset of new, mail-in registrants who ALSO want to vote absentee; voters who apparetnly claime that they simply can't, at any time between their 18th birthday and election day, appear in person at their local clerk's office.

If in fact there are such people, so utterly disorganized and uninvolved as to screw up the voter registration process, a process I could have completed when I was about 8 years old, I don't think I am going to lose sleep over whether or not they have a vote on the next leader of the free world.

I understand fully that voting is as much as anything a symbolic and universal connection to our sacred democracy. For people who care, it is important. It is a very big deal. I just wonder why we're supposed to worry too much about people who prove, by their actions, that they really don't much care. Personally, I would no more bar someone from voting than I would force them to vote.

Just spare me any allusions to any partisan "voter disenfranchisement".

Voting should be easy and convenient. Everyone should be able to do it, even if they may be illiterate. I'm sure the thought if illiterate voters makes you as uncomfortable as it does me, but the fact remains that they have just as much right to vote as any other U.S. citizen.

For young people that are moving as far away to California to go to school, surely you can understand that they have many things to worry about and at the time, voting is nowhere near the top of the list. We shouldn't expect people to plan their vote years before the election.

Let's also not take sarcastic swipes at youth culture. I can assure you that you will run into about the same ratio of smart to dumb people at a Ludicris concert as you would at a Vivaldi concert.

Voter registration efforts are not an attempt to guilt apathetic voters into going to the polls, they are an attempt to encourage people to CARE about elections and their government.

Lastly, I know it's bad debate form to bolster the opponent's argument (especially at closing), but don't forget that you're actually allowed to register to vote when you're 17 years and 6 months old; you just can't actually vote until you're 18. The law is written this way primarily for individuals that would turn 18 between the registration deadline and voting day.

Indeed, Dave, that's quite a helpful point that you mentioned. I was not aware of the "17 years and six months" registration rule; I'd favor the statewide notification of all 17 year-olds in every public high school in the state of that rule. That's about how much I fear and loathe any "youth vote."

Anyway, proper utilization of that rule might have helped Mr. Lessenberry's friend's collegiate daughter, it seems. The demographic of people inconvenienced by the "in person" rule for first-tmie voters shrinks even further...

Oh, and it's Ludacris, not Ludicris. I know, cuz he wuz on Obama's iPod. Unless, of course, Obama's iPod is "Ludicrous."

Actually, it IS difficult to vote in Michigan. This is for a few reasons, some that are difficult to fix but others that are not. First, in order to register, you do in fact have to appear in person if it is your first time voting. Have you ever stood in line at the Secretary of State office?! My God, what a mess. For whatever reason, fifty people who are at the office for fifty different reasons are ALL IN THE SAME LINE. Hence, it takes forever. When I lived in Michigan, I used to set aside an entire afternoon for the Secretary of State office, because it really was necessary. This makes it all the more unlikely that a student/worker, especially one who is under thirty and probably has little schedule flexibility, will take the time to stand in a three hour line, just to register. It's very tempting to say, "I'll do that another week. I need to run errands NOW", and that presents a problem.
Second, even if you manage to successfully register (which I did), absentee voting is kind of a crapshoot. It takes five to seven days for regular mail to get from Michigan to Washington State, where I currently live. I have yet to receive my ballot, although I sent my request over a month ago. It's looking like I am not going to be able to vote.

I don't think that it is that crazy to think about universal voting systems, especially considering the huge rise in commuters, traveling jobs, and students who leave their home states for years at a time. I mean, you have to have ID for EVERYTHING anyway - use a credit card, open a bank account, get on a plane, drive a car, go to the bar, et cetera - so, it doesn't seem all that impossible to consider the possibility of voting in place other than that where you registered. I do understand the inherent problem with ID sketchiness - my drivers license once had my middle name as Elzabeth instead of Elizabeth, and I didn't notice for quite some time - errors that are now being used to deny people access to the polls. But I suppose that the physical presence of poll access is more important to me, at least immediately.

so get out and vote in Michigan, because at least one poor, sad sap in Washington is getting screwed over.

I have never had any problem voting anywhere I have ever lived (Michigan, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Missouri) and have never had any difficulty registering. Even when I was 18 I was able to figure out how to get an absentee ballot, and that was before there was such a thing as the internet and you actually had to go to a library and find the instructions!

I think it is a reasonable requirement to have people show up in person, and even stand in line if they have to, to register. What's the big deal?

For crying out loud, folks, quit your griping! You live in the freest [free-est, freest, most free, Jack - is that a word - you're the journalist, right??? :-) ] country in the world where everything is as easy as pie! Go vote.

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