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Jacobsen expresses regret over election reform bill's defeat

July 18, 2012 - State Representative Brad Jacobsen (R-Oxford) expressed his regret recently over Governor Rick Snyder's vetoing of an election reform bill he sponsored.

According to Jacobsen, the crux of HB 5061 "had to do with absentee ballots and (showing) a (photo) ID when you picked up your absentee ballot in person . . . (HB 5061) would have set that into statute," the representative summarized.

HB 5061 would "also set forward training for what's referred to as ballot coaching," Jacobsen continued. Ballot coaching occurs when "special needs individuals, (or) seniors . . . in a care facility . . . have a nursing worker who might be there (to) help them try to fill out their ballot." HB 5061 was designed to regulate "how much influence they could express over the individual on how they were to vote," Jacobsen said.

If HB 5061 had passed, it would have prohibited local election clerks from providing an absentee voter ballot to persons without a photo ID unless the voter signed an affidavit agreeing the ballot be designated a "challenged" ballot.

The law would also have required all villages, townships, and cities to report the number of affidavits signed by individuals without photo ID.

In addition to the citizenship verification, the law would have required the Secretary of State's office to create and install posters 45 days before each election at residential care facilities to educate the public against ballot coaching.

Snyder justified his veto of Jacobsen's legislation on the grounds that the new provisions would "create voter confusion among absentee voters."

The governor suggested amending the application to include language about U.S. citizenship in the opening declaration section. However, the "governor is not opposed to the photo ID requirement, which has been a part of Michigan law for some time," Spokesperson Sara Wurfel said on July 11.

In response to the governor's reasoning, Jacobsen said "I can see part of that and that if an individual doesn't check the box, their ballot, once returned to the clerk, wouldn't be counted because (the box) wasn't checked." Those ballots would be designated as a challenged ballot, and "more likely than not would not be counted," he said.

Jacobsen indicated that although he has no problem with it, the citizen check box wasn't in his original bill; it was inserted by the state Senate.

Many groups, including the League of Women Voters, were opposed to Jacobsen's legislation. Some voter advocate groups claim legislation like Jacobsen's is part of an overall effort to suppress votes, particularly for Democratic candidates.

Susan Smith, president of Michigan's League of Women Voters, said "we're very grateful to the Governor and the action he took."

"We believe this is a victory for the voters in Michigan," she noted.

Voter suppression is "certainly not the intent," explained Jacobsen.

"The intent is to make sure that those individuals who go through the effort to pick up an absentee ballot . . . their vote is not overruled or negated by an illegal vote by another individual," he said.

"I want to make sure that everyone who's eligible to vote has the best access and that their vote counts."

But according to Bruce Fealk, board member of the Michigan Election Reform Alliance, photo IDs do nothing to ensure fair voting. Signature cards, not easily forgeable photo IDs, remain "the gold standard" in efforts to curb voter impersonation fraud.

Voter impersonation fraud is a myth, said Fealk, and reform bills like HB 5061 are a "solution in search of a problem."

According to the Detroit Free Press, Michigan has experienced six cases of voter impersonation fraud out of nearly two million voters.

Looking more locally, the combined number of voter impersonation fraud cases in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties was nearly twelve out of almost 480,000.

"I have not seen any evidence of a broad massive voter fraud campaign," Jacobsen conceded. "It's not a broad spread problem but I want to make sure it doesn't become one."

"When I've asked the Secretary of State, she acknowledges that she doesn't have evidence and she says (reform efforts are) a matter of prevention," Smith said.

But Smith isn't satisfied with the arguments about fraud prevention, because "if you're going to try to put in something to prevent a problem, then you need to think carefully about what would be the consequences of putting in those measures since there isn't a problem."

Jacobsen indicated it isn't a difficult thing to get a photo ID and said it's "just utter nonsense that (photo ID laws are) preventing people from voting."

"You have to have ID to cash a check; you have to have an ID to use a credit card now – a lot of places ask to see an ID," he explained. "When you use a credit card or if you vote in an UAW union election, you have to show ID to prove who you are."

"If the individual doesn't have a driver's license they can get a state-issued ID card . . . for $15," he said. "If you're over 65 you can get a free state ID card, so it's not really creating a barrier to people voting,"

Even though many people in modern society carry photo identification, Smith argued, "there are many people who don't live the kind of life where you're getting on an airplane or cashing a check or some other situation that (most are) used to. So many of us are used to photo IDs all the time that it's hard to understand that there are people in our population who don't have (one)," said Smith.

For some voters, it "might be difficult to get to a place where they could get one . . . (and) people with low incomes aren't going to want to spend $15. If you're looking to try to find enough food to feed your family, then the $15 charge to get a photo ID is (a purchase) that you're just not going to make," Smith said.

Smith said that "of people over 65, 1 in 10 does not have an ID, and (the number of) people in the state who don't have a photo ID who are of voting age is (around) 700,000—this is not a small problem. Voting is a right, it's not a choice like shall I get on an airplane or something of that nature."

Although his bill "is dead," Jacobsen anticipates a revision to appear in the near future.

He remains "committed to protecting the right to vote for all Michiganders while protecting the integrity of ballots cast by eligible voters."

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