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Local congregation helping people register to vote absentee

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected our lives in so many ways.

One way is how elections are organized. Portage Township Committee Trustee Bill Fink, declared that, “in upcoming elections, every community is going to have to prioritize the health of the folks working the polls.”

“Twelve-hour-poll worker days, being in contact with hundreds of people makes it really difficult to ask our poll workers to do that work,” he said.

Miriam Pickens recalled her recent campaign experiences.

“I was horrified to watch as reports came in from the Apr. 7 election in Wisconsin,” Pickens said. “In order for people to exercise their voting rights, voters and poll workers had to forego physical distancing standards and then weeks later we learned that 40 people had contracted the coronavirus because of their need to vote in person.

“I want to canvas, but I don’t want to encourage people to vote if it means putting their health in jeopardy.”

Both Fink and Pickens are members of the Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (KUUF) and they have helped spearhead a KUUF project encouraging Houghton County voters to register for the Permanent Absentee Voter List. “Registering for it will ensure that my neighbors can vote and still be safe,” Pickens said.

The non-partisan media campaign will include lawn signs, bumper stickers, buttons, newspaper display ads and radio ads; all aimed at energizing the community to register for absentee voting. Pickens held up a button with the “I Registered Absentee” logo on it.

“We hope this little media push will help remind people to take a couple easy steps to register for absentee voting,” she said.

In November 2018, Proposal 3 became part of the state constitution. It allowed all Michiganders the right to vote absentee. This was great for people who would have a difficult time getting to the polling places, but most Yoopers really like voting in person.

Lora Repp, another KUUF member looked into this.

“Up until a month ago, I thought if you registered absentee, you were obligated to vote absentee even if you ended up being able to go to the polls,” said Repp. “Now I understand that registering as an absentee voter gives you the option to vote by mail but you are not required to do so.

“It is not possible to predict how precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus may effect upcoming elections. If you request an absentee ballot it will be mailed to you prior to the election. It makes sense to have the choice of mailing that ballot back rather than possibly risking your own health and the health of poll workers by voting in person.”

Janeen Stephenson recently registered for the permanent absentee voter list.

“I found the application with directions on the KUUF website,” she said. “It was easier than I thought.”

The Secretary of State and the city of Houghton have both sent applications for people to join the Permanent Absentee Voting List.

“We hope people respond to whatever form works best for them,” Stevenson said. “We just want folks to have a safe, secure choice.”

There are helpful answers to questions you might have with a link for registration at http://www.keweenawuu.org/justice/register-to-vote-absentee/. You can also go directly to https://mvic.sos.state.mi.us/ to register.

To join the Permanent Absentee Voter List, check the box labeled “I want to vote absentee in all future elections. Automatically send me an application for every election.” Then mail, email, or hand deliver this application to your city or county clerk. The Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship website has directions to find the address of my clerk.

“I did it,” Stevenson said. “Now I am ready to vote safely no matter what the pandemic conditions are like in August and November.”

Barry Fink and other KUUF members have been working closely with the riseUp group in Houghton County, celebrating the 100th Anniversary of passage of the 19th Amendment and Women’s Right to Vote. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony and Olympia Brown, all notable Suffragists, were prominent in the Unitarian and Universalist faiths.

“We are proud of our activist heritage in securing the right to vote,” said Fink. “It would be a shame on this 100th anniversary, for anyone to forfeit their right to vote due to a health concern. This 100th anniversary is a great time to make another giant leap forward into absentee voting rights for all.”

“Being an absentee voter and working the polls in my township, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of voting during the COVID-19 crisis,” Horst Schmidt, a poll worker in Osceola Township, said. “Our democratic process needs to be maintained and strengthened regardless of the problems citizens of Michigan face. The work that has been done in the last few years to liberalize our voting laws now makes it possible for people to vote without endangering their health. Let us vote this year to celebrate that effort.”

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