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TMCNet:  Detroiters can apply for absentee ballots via smartphone app [Detroit Free Press :: ]

[July 16, 2014]

Detroiters can apply for absentee ballots via smartphone app [Detroit Free Press :: ]

(Detroit Free Press (MI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 16--Detroit will become the first city in Michigan to allow residents to apply for absentee ballots by touch-screen-enabled phones, officials announced Wednesday.

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey and Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson announced the initiative at the city's elections headquarters, saying the effort is to reach out to people ages 18-35 who might otherwise not get involved in the electoral process.

People in that age group "are the least engaged, yet they have cell phones attached to their hips," Winfrey said. "So why not allow them to use their cell phones to apply to vote" by absentee ballot? Johnson said the digital application process brings together two trends: increasing use of smartphones and a growing number of voters who cast their votes by absentee ballot. Johnson said the percentage of Michigan voters who cast absentee ballots rose from 16% in 2002 to 27% in 2012.

Built-in safeguards make applying digitally for absentee ballots substantially similar to applying by mail or in person at municipal offices, Winfrey said.

Applicants must be registered voters. In the applications, they have to provide their name and address and, through touch screens, their signatures. Elections workers verify the information and make sure signatures match those already on file, she said.

"It's very much like those that are hand delivered or faxed," Winfrey said. If signatures don't match, applicants will be mailed a letter telling them as much.

As a nonpartisan clerk, Winfrey said she had no issue with announcing the effort in partnership with the Democratic Party; she said she would have worked with Republicans, the Green Party or others to increase access to voters.

"What matters is that voters have the information available on their smart phones," Winfrey said.

The absentee ballot application was to be available Thursday within the city's existing smartphone app, available by searching "Vote for Detroit" in iPhone, Android and other systems. Touch-screen phones are required to apply because applicants must provide their signatures.

Johnson said Detroit would be the first city in Michigan to adopt digital absentee ballot applications, but such options are already in use in California, Arizona, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Ohio and Illinois.

Darren Littell, a spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party, said the GOP isn't opposed to the new technology, saying that it supports measures to increase voter turnout.? A spokeswoman for Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said the department hasn't had a chance to review the city's technology and said it would be premature to comment.

The primary election is Aug. 5.

Contact Matt Helms: 313-222-1450 or Follow him on Twitter @matthelms.? ___ (c)2014 the Detroit Free Press Visit the Detroit Free Press at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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