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MI Lawmakers OK Early Ballot Processing09/29 06:08


   LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan election officials would begin processing 
absentee ballots two days before the Nov. 8 election under legislation approved 
Wednesday in hopes of avoiding delays in counting, with absentee voting 
expected to remain a popular option.

   Michigan is one of several key swing states that allows no-excuse mail-in 
ballots but doesn't allow local election offices to begin processing ballots 
until 7 a.m. on Election Day, which often delays results in tight races and can 
leave a gaping hole for misinformation and lies to flood the public space.

   Ann Bollin, House Elections and Ethics Committee chair, announced the 
agreement on election bills after months of negotiations. The bills passed the 
Republican-controlled Legislature and now go to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a 

   Election offices in municipalities with populations of at least 10,000 would 
be allowed to remove absentee ballots from their outer envelopes on the Sunday 
before the election, but they still wouldn't be allowed to remove secrecy 
sleeves or count votes until 7 a.m. on Election Day.

   The package would also increase ballot drop box security and require county 
clerks to remove deceased voters from voter rolls monthly.

   A 2018 voter-approved constitutional amendment allowed for no-excuse 
absentee voting, and a surge in such voting followed. A record-breaking 3.3 
million people in Michigan voted absentee in the 2020 presidential election 
during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Over half of all votes cast in 
the August primary were absentee.

   In addition to the high-impact races for governor, attorney general and 
secretary of state, an initiative on the ballot this November seeking to 
enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution is expected to lead to high 
voter turnout. Absentee ballots start going out Thursday, and Secretary of 
State Jocelyn Benson said her office expects several million to choose the 
option this year.

   The legislation would provide some relief for local election offices, but 
clerks still say it doesn't go far enough. They for years have asked for seven 
days for preprocessing before Election Day.

   Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said that absentee ballots take longer to 
process because of signature verification and that "just allowing local clerks 
to open the envelope ahead of time is not enough."

   Pre-processing of absentee ballots has been an issue since Benson's first 
day in office in 2019, she said, and it's been used as a "political football."

   "As long as Michigan voters want election results on Election Day, as long 
as it remains an important security issue for voters to not have to wait for 
results, we will continue to push the Legislature to allow more processing 
time," Benson said. "It's unequivocal that it's the right thing to do, and it 
escapes me why any lawmakers who claim to want secure elections would fail to 
meet this basic change in the law."

   Former President Donald Trump used the delayed reporting in battleground 
states to push false claims that election workers falsified ballots in the 
middle of the night in Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee and other 
Democratic-leaning cities.

   Delays in reporting election results lead to "misinformation being 
weaponized" as political candidates claim victory before final results come 
in," Benson said.

   An initiative on this year's ballot brought on by the same voting rights 
coalition that passed the constitutional amendment in 2018 would further 
increase accessibility to absentee voting. The Promote the Vote initiative 
would, among other things, allow people to join a permanent list to receive 
absentee ballots every election, along with requiring nine days of in-person 
early voting.

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