The Rapidian

Voting for Kent County Clerk: Chris Reader focuses on accessibility

On November 8, Kent County voters will elect a new County Clerk. In this series, the two candidates, Chris Reader (Democrat) and Lisa Posthumus Lyons (Republican) were interviewed on their vision for the office.
Kent County Clerk candidates Chris Reader (Democrat) and Lisa Posthumus Lyons (Republican)

Kent County Clerk candidates Chris Reader (Democrat) and Lisa Posthumus Lyons (Republican) /Reader photo: Well Design / Lyons photo: DarKen Photography

Candidate information

Chris Reader

  • Senior Software Developer for Spectrum Health
  • Co-Chair, Green Grand Rapids Master Plan Committee
  • Parks Strategic Master Plan Citizen's Committee for Grand Rapids
  • Has served on 16 different community boards and committees since 2005
  • readerforclerk.com

Lisa Posthumus Lyons

  • State Representative (R-Alto) since 2010
  • Chair of House Elections Committee 
  • Director of Public Policy and Community Outreach for the Grand Rapids Association of REALTORS
  • Former Secretary of the Bowne Township Planning Commission
  • www.lyonsforclerk.com

The Kent County Clerk works with city and township clerks to manage elections and monitor campaign finance law. The Clerk's office also maintains vital records (birth, death, and marriage) as well as Circuit Court files and property deeds. After years of service, current Clerk Mary Hollinrake is retiring, which offers a rare opportunity for a new face in the office. Both candidates were interviewed on their vision for the office.

Chris Reader, Democrat: Ensure better access to voting

“Local government is profoundly important. We interact with its outcomes every day," said Chris Reader, Democrat, when asked about his decision to run for County Clerk. "With twenty years of information technology skills, I'm very prepared to create a Clerk’s office that is best-in-class and forward looking. The minimum we should expect is well-administered elections and records: the Clerk [should] do more to ensure everyone has an opportunity to vote. I’ll advocate for extended voting periods and no-reason absentee ballots."

"Leveraging political power is a mechanism for improving marginalized communities -- we must have free and fair elections," Reader continued. "Voter disenfranchisement is a significant problem in Michigan. Long lines, excessive challenges [such as lack of access to ID documents], poorly planned or placed polling places, and language barriers can all be methods of disenfranchisement, whether deliberate or inadvertent. As Clerk, I intend to work with local clerks to eliminate these issues.”

Partnership building

Reader also spoke to accessibility issues. "I'll build partnerships with local community groups like Disability Advocates, Advocates for Senior Issues, the Hispanic Center, and the Urban League to be sure that the Clerk is making services accessible to their members.” Here Reader pointed out his eleven years of collaborative volunteer community work, including chairing two master city plans for Grand Rapids.

"ID requirements can present barriers to accessing the polls, as well as other services, which are particularly pressing to marginalized groups. As Clerk, I will work to discover ways to provide citizens easier access to the documents which are needed for everyday identification. I will work with partners to discover where the barriers to participation are, and help to knock them down or overcome them.”

Given his experience in information systems, Reader also plans to implement technology like putting more services online that allow people to interact with the Clerk’s vital records office "on their time, at their convenience.  My goal is to ensure that everyone who interacts with the Clerk feels like a valued member of our community — including people with mobility challenges, language, or cultural differences. I'm looking at other ways to expand access to the Clerk's office, like a mobile office that rotates around the county, extended hours, and overnight document delivery," he said.

Concerns

By contrast, Reader noted instances in which he says his opponent tried to limit voter access, including the ban on straight ticket voting (later ruled as a disproportionate burden on African Americans' right to vote) and "secure" no-reason absentee voting. "No-reason is good, but 'secure' means those voters would have to visit a clerk before each election." Reader continued, "Absentee voting is already secure, as a voter must appear in person the first time they vote."

Reader cited other legislation supported by Lyons (Senate Bill 571, now Public Act 269), such as a “gag order” preventing local officials from using mass communications to educate the public about ballot initiatives before elections. (That section of the law currently has a federal injunction against it.) That legislation also included a change to political action committee contributions by payroll deduction that affects union workers. Reader said this payroll-deduction prohibition has been ruled a first amendment violation.

Reader also mentioned that in 2012 Lyons passed messages between two key Republicans after their documented attempt to rig the election for the 76th district in the Michigan House. He concluded, “I'm highly concerned about what [my opponent] would do as Kent County Clerk.”

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