by Elizabeth Dallam Ayoub | November 1, 2023
In the United States there are three categories of people: citizens, non-citizens who are legally permitted to be here, and illegals. For election clerks, those who are entrusted with ensuring that United States law is followed (“United States citizens can vote; non-citizens, including permanent legal residents, cannot vote.”) Who can and cannot vote | USAGov This is particularly true for election officials in Michigan.
With both non-citizens as well as citizens being able to receive driver’s licenses (which automatically registers someone to vote) and with the ability to register to vote online and not in the physical presence of a clerk, we can applaud the simplicity of both. People are busy nowadays; streamlined methods attract us. Cheers to streamlining!
These processes lead, however, to the question: “Who is a voter?” versus “Who is eligible to vote?” questions that twenty years ago would have seemed implausible. But in 2023, here we are. Cheers, hmm?
A non-citizen may obtain a Social Security number, Social Security Numbers for Noncitizens (ssa.gov) which is the first document needed to apply for a Michigan driver’s license or ID card. SOS-428: Driver's License or ID Requirements (michigan.gov)
Next, someone must show proof of legal presence in the United States (or that the person had immigration documents which expired and proof that the person has applied for more). Proof of identify and proof of residency must be provided, also. Driver’s license cards from another state, even if expired within the previous 4 years, are accepted. “Other documents” may be shown for proof of residency.
Or, a person can register to vote online where the person can check “I am a U.S. citizen,” and “I am a Michigan resident and will vote only after I have lived in my city or township for 30 days.” Michigan Online Voter Registration (state.mi.us)
The new Michigan election laws passed a few months ago permit individuals to vote via absentee ballot (not having to show up at the polls) or at the polls without having to show an identification card. In both of those instances, an individual never needed (or needs) to prove citizenship.
We Should Be Concerned
In many of these instances the only connection a clerk has with a voter is a digitized computer signature.
Michigan election laws and administrative procedures implemented by the Secretary of State do not address these concerns.
College students who are registered to vote in their hometowns are also registering to vote in their college towns. If these college students are United States citizens, they could have registered online or they could have registered with a local clerk using a college address.
Under Michigan law, Section 168.11, residence means “that place at which a person habitually sleeps, keeps his or her personal effects, and has a regular place of lodging. If a person has more than 1 residence…that place at which the person resides the greater part of the time shall be his or her official residence for purpose of this act.” [Michigan’s Election Act].
Are Michigan clerks expected to ask college students how many nights they spend at their parents’ home, how many nights they spend at the college campus or surrounding environs, and calculate this to decide if the college student can register there?
To-date, Michigan legislators and the Secretary of State have failed to tackle the issue in which a college student is registered to vote in two locations.
The Secretary of State has failed to implement administrative guidelines to ensure in-state students are listed on Michigan’s Qualified Voter File only once and out-state students are registered to vote in only one state.
By May 2024 anyone who flies within the United States will need a REAL ID. In order to convert a driver’s license to a REAL ID, all one needs to do is go to the Secretary of State’s office, present a current Michigan driver’s license or ID, a valid passport, United States birth certificate, or “proof of legal presence” document. https://www.michigan.gov/sos/license-id/real-id
The REAL ID allows people to fly within the United States and to enter certain federal facilities, including buildings in Washington, D.C. and the Hoover Dam in Nevada. People must present this ID to enter sacred and important federal buildings. But, in Michigan people need not present this ID to cast a ballot to vote to determine who occupies these buildings or runs these facilities.
Are any of our elected officials appalled? Have they expressed concern? Did any of them raise an eyebrow? The answer is yes, a few—far too few.
The “exercise of official power” in our nation is “but a derivative of the people,” a Michigan Supreme Court justice wrote in regard to a 2020 election case.
While many wring their hands and complain about “the way it is,” or about legislators “who don’t do their job,” or about the “crumby world of politics,” let us remember this stems from each of us. Here in the U.S., We the People are the power. We delegate our power to those we elect to make laws (legislators), enforce the laws (execute) and adjudicate (judge) disputes.
However, based upon current election integrity issues alone, we must apparently reign in these elected officials’ power. In common parlance, we’re the employers and those in government are our employees.
As the late Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Come and join the noisy volunteers of Michigan Fair Elections who raised their eyebrows, became concerned, and took action. Those who volunteer for MFE refuse to remain silent about the issue of election integrity. We refuse to hand off our rights or our powers only to see them tangled, warped, and misused. Michigan Fair Elections educates, advocates for fair elections, and litigates against issues that undermine the election process and system.
Elizabeth Dallam Ayoub serves as MFE’s director of communications. She started her career working for an international company, transitioned into teaching French and Latin while her children were young, and then became a Michigan attorney.
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