Shelby Township clerk joins call for ‘no reason’ absentee ballots

By: Brad D. Bates | Shelby - Utica News | Published December 10, 2012

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — After overseeing his first U.S. presidential election as Shelby Township clerk, Stanley Grot feels a renewed kinship with his fellow clerks across the state.

It wasn’t the late night Nov. 6 or even the long lines at polling locations that forged this sense of solidarity. It was the weeks leading up to the election, as Grot saw what he calls Michigan’s “insufficient” absentee voter regulations.

“I witnessed firsthand how insufficient these six reasons are,” Grot said of the current six criteria, which voters must meet one or more of, to apply for an absentee ballot. “I had an individual standing in front of me, and he said he would like to vote absentee because he’s busy all day in two jobs.

“I said pick one reason, and he looked and said, ‘I would have to lie.’ None of the reasons fit. It was very frustrating, and he said, ‘I guess I won’t vote.’”

Currently the six options voters must meet when applying for an absentee ballot are: “I expect to be absent from the community in which I am registered for the entire time the polls are open on Election Day;” “I am physically unable to attend the polls without the assistance of another;” “I cannot attend the polls because of the tenets of my religion;” “I have been appointed an election precinct inspector in a precinct other than the precinct where I reside;” “I am 60 years of age or older;” or “I cannot attend the polls because I am confined to jail awaiting arraignment or trial.”

“There are people, and none of these categories fit them,” Grot said. “And another said, ‘Are you going to send investigators to my house if I say I’m out of town?’”

Utica Clerk Cathy McGrail said she, like many clerks across the state, has long supported some form of change to absentee voter regulations.

She said she’s seen past efforts come and go, though, as it doesn’t seem to be a pressing issue for those who would decide on the change: the state Legislature.

“It just gets buried, and unless it’s an election they’re running in, it’s difficult to get meaningful changes to the election law,” McGrail said. “It’s frustrating as all get out, but if (Grot) wants to pick it up and try again, more power to him.”

House Bill 5060 would expand absentee request options to seven, with a new provision to allow voters to receive an absentee ballot by applying in person at their clerk’s office with a valid picture state identification.

The bill was introduced Oct. 12, 2011, in the state House of Representatives, but it has not progressed further than being referred to the Committee on Redistricting and Elections.

“I think it’s a lot of politics involved, a lot of mistrust,” Grot said about the lack of movement on the issue. “Democrats think it’s going to advantage Republicans. Republicans feel it’s a huge advantage for Democrats, and it’s back-and-forth and a lot of mistrust.”

Grot, who has been on different sides of politics and elections in his time working within the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office and as an official with the Michigan GOP, said he is open to discussing the merits of no-reason absentee ballots with any state lawmakers or officials to help further the process.

“The big myth is that there is fraud involved and manipulation of votes — that the votes won’t be counted,” Grot said of one stumbling block to increased absentee voting.  “But with today’s technology and equipment, I think it’s almost impossible to rig elections.

“Having been running three elections, it’s opened my eyes, and I think it’s the perfect time to address this issue,” Grot added. “It’s an issue of convenience and that will increase voters’ participation.”