Detroit unveils online absentee-ballot application

LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Detroit will become Michigan’s first municipality to let voters apply online for absentee ballots, a step some other city clerks will take next week in preparation for the 2014 elections.

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey and state Democratic Party Chairman Lon Johnson announced the project Wednesday, hailing it as an “historic” way to help more people vote early.

Starting Wednesday, Detroit residents can visit a website – created by the Democratic Party – and fill out an absentee ballot application, which will be transmitted electronically to the clerk’s office, which until now has accepted such requests by mail, fax or in person.

Because election officials must verify an absentee voter applicant’s signature with their signature on file, the technology initially is limited to touch-screen mobile devices, but could be available on desktop computers later.

“We’re going to use every tool and technology at our disposal to make sure people have access to the ballot. This effort is one of them,” Johnson told The Associated Press before an afternoon announcement in Detroit. “Smartphones have become an integral part of people’s lives.”

He said other cities soon will begin accepting online absentee-ballot applications, but declined to name them until an official announcement planned for next week.

Gisgie Gendreau, spokeswoman for Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, said the agency did not have an opportunity to review the project.

“It’s premature for us to comment until our Bureau of Elections has a chance to determine whether it meets election law,” she said.