Michigan AG: First-time voters must cast ballots in person

By Chris Rizo | Oct 24, 2008

Mike Cox (R)

Mike Bishop (R)

LANSING, Mich. (Legal Newsline)-First-time voters in Michigan who have either registered to vote by mail or with a third party group must vote in person on Nov. 4, state Attorney General Mike Cox said in an informal legal opinion Friday.

Cox was asked by a state lawmaker -- Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester -- whether county clerks' efforts to have first time voters, especially college students, vote by mail is legal.

Michigan state law requires voters who registered to vote by mail or through a third-party must apply for an absentee ballot in person so local clerks can verify their identity, Cox spokesman John Sellek told Legal Newsline.

But some county officials have allowed first-time voters to go the county clerk's office where they current reside to verify their identification after they've registered to vote by mail or through a third-party organization.

Then, the clerk in that county notifies election officials in the voter's hometown that their identity has been verified so the absentee ban for first-time voters can be lifted from their registration, allowing them to cast an absentee ballot.

The program in many counties of "cross deputizing" county clerks is aimed at helping college students avoid a drive to their home county to cast a ballot on Nov. 4.

"I understand that the intent of this program is to assist these voters in exercising their voting franchise; however, any such program must comply with state and federal law," Cox wrote in his letter to Bishop. "Therefore, in answer to your question, county clerks may not deputize one another for the purpose of facilitating the issuance of an absentee ballot to first time voters in Michigan who registered to vote by mail."

In his letter this week to the attorney general, Bishop said he fears the program could "open up our election to greater opportunities for voter fraud and consequently further damage the credibility of the election process."

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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