Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 7, 2012

Editorial: Obligation to make voting easier


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---- — The nation could use a few more voters as dedicated as Evan Cover. Make that a lot more.

Evan is a 19-year-old Traverse City Central High School graduate who flew 1,087 miles home from Tufts University near Boston to vote in Tuesday's election. He wanted to vote for the Traverse City Schools ballot issue, school board incumbent Gary Appel and weigh in on the six statewide ballot issues. He also wanted to vote in the presidential race.

But Cover found out that even though he registered by mail last year during a voter registration drive at Tufts, Michigan law requires those who register by mail to either show up in person at their local clerk's office or vote in person before they can obtain an absentee ballot.

That's another example of a system that seems more geared toward preventing citizens from voting than encouraging them to get involved. Counties and states should have reciprocal systems that allow college students, for instance, to go to a clerk's office where they're attending school and cast a ballot, with clerks there doing the necessary vetting to ensure the system isn't being rigged. It can't be that hard. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey voters are being allowed to vote by email.

In Traverse City, a record number of voters — 2,506 — sought absentee ballots, a 21 percent increase from the last presidential election four years ago.

"We're seeing the most we've ever had," said Traverse City Clerk Benjamin Marentette.

He expected turnout to top even the 2004 presidential election, which saw a very respectable 72 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

The record absentee numbers could be due in part to a new system in the city under which senior citizens can automatically receive a mail-in absentee ballot application. Several hundred seniors signed up, Marentette said.

This is the way it's supposed to be, making it easier for citizens to participate in the democracy experiment. Voting is our birthright, the tangible expression of our role as the deciders in our democratic system. We're supposed to make the big choices.

There must be rules if we are to trust the system. But the people who work for us should be constantly finding new ways to make voting easier, not harder, such as sending out absentee ballot applications or creating reciprocal agreements with other counties and other states. Why not?

So good for Evan Cover for making the effort and spending the money to be part of the process. Hopefully his story inspired a few other folks to take the time Tuesday to be heard.