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
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