No-reason absentee voting has made casting a ballot in a Michigan election easier than ever before.  Illustration by Tania Lili absentee voting
No-reason absentee voting has made casting a ballot in a Michigan election easier than ever before. Illustration by Tania Lili

Taking part in the democratic process is easier than ever in Michigan. Just ask this resident who cast her vote for the next president from her couch.

MICHIGAN —  Farmington resident Mary Leyman, 66, loves the democratic process. So much that she started voting at 18 and never missed an election. 

This year, she practiced her right to vote recently in the comfort of her living room wearing her Detroit Tigers sweatshirt and pajamas drinking a cup O’ Joe. 

The lifelong Democrat voted absentee — something she’s done every year for over 10 years because as a retired school teacher she typically was at work and unable to make the polls; one of several prerequisites to vote absentee. 

But this year was different. 

With the relatively new no-reason absentee voting (thanks to what we call Ballot Proposal 3 of 2018) Leyman embarked on her right to vote for this election for, well, no reason, like many other voters regionally and beyond.

Previously, absentee voters were people who would be absent from the county on Election Day; were ill, disabled, incarcerated, or 60 years of age or older. 

“…the only power most of us have is to vote.” 

Mary Leyman

Leyman, who is in great health, walked up to Farmington City Hall and dropped off her ballot. But her decision on who to vote for was not a walk in the park.

“This has been the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make,” Leyman said. “I take it very seriously. I really have struggled because for me it’s whoever can beat the U.S. Pres. Donald Trump. I’m not a fan of Bernie Sanders … but I’m going to vote for Joe Biden.”

Macomb County Clerk Fred Miller said that Prop 3 expanded new rights for people like Leyman, among other Michigan voters.

“We encourage people to vote this way because it is significantly more convenient for a number of reasons,” Miller said. 

Miller said to vote absentee, voters have to fill out a very short application with their name, address, and signature and send it back in to their local clerk typically before an election. 

Miller added that the no-reason absentee voting allows people more time to think about important issues at hand, where at polling locations, voters might have voted thoughtfully for candidates at the top of the ticket and not known as much about other ballot measures. 

“A lot of stuff on the ballot you might not have thought about (and voters could potentially) make an uninformed decision or skip (an issue),” MIller said. “So absentee voting allows you to do it at home. Take your time, do proper research and make a more thoughtful decision.” 

Miller also said that because Prop 3 started in 2018, the elections last year were smaller so this election March 10 is the first statewide one that will be implementing these changes for Prop 3. Miller said in past elections, the county saw a huge spike for the number of requests for absentee voting in March 2016. 

Again they’re seeing a 75 percent increase in Macomb County in the number of absentee ballots requests. But uncertainty still lingers. 

“It remains to be seen if these absentee voters are new voters or regular absentee voters,” Miller said, adding that one thing is crystal clear. “It shows people taking advantage of this new right and there is an increased interest in this election. Anytime as a country we are deciding on the president of the United States it gets a lot of media attention and certainly there are some really interesting and colorful characters in this election that gets people’s attention.” 

Romulus City Clerk Ellen Craig-Bragg said recently that she “wholeheartedly” supports no-reason absentee voting, and others in the city do, too.

“Our list of voters who are on the permanent absentee voter list has increased,” Craig-Bragg said in an email. “We currently have 2,774 voters on the list. I’m anticipating those numbers to double by the August Primary Election.”

Craig-Bragg said that she thinks with more voters taking advantage of the option to vote by absentee it will have an impact on with shorter lines in the precincts and shortened time spent in the precinct for the voter.

While she supports no-reason absentee voter voting she said that it’s a lot more work in the clerk’s office.

“But it’s a good thing for democracy,” she said. “I believe with the no reason absentee voter voting will increase voter turn-out and voter education.”

Dearborn City Clerk George Darany said that no-reason voting was voted in by a “pretty overwhelming margin” because the people have spoken loud and clear. 

“This is what the people of Michigan wanted,” he said, adding that the thought was this would increase voting throughout the state because people who don’t like taking off of work or can’t take off of work could vote in a more streamlined process. “So the percentage of people that are voting that will go up, and people voting absentee has gone up.”

Darany said in Dearborn it is “still too early” for the Clerk’s Office to gauge what impact no-reason absentee voting has locally. 

He said in last year’s election there was a roughly 20 percent turnout, and, typically for other races, there would be a 30 or 40 percent turnout.

Out of the roughly 100,000 Dearborn residents, 63,000, or just over 40 percent, are registered voters. Of that the city has about 35-40 percent that are 60 years old and over, and those who are 30 and under are the city’s smallest voter percentage.

“We also know that the highest percentage of people who vote are 60 years old and over,” Darany said. “The greater percentage of people who vote absentee voter are seniors but not every senior votes absentee.”

Leyman said that for all who choose to vote, whether absentee or not, and for whichever side, it is important for everyone’s voices to be heard, especially those who feel marginalized or pushed to the side. Your vote still counts.

“Even if you are voting and your vote is going to cancel mine out it is a civic duty, a civic responsibility,” she said. “And the only power most of us have is to vote.”