Michigan lawmakers approve early absentee ballot processing, hoping to avoid delays in counting

Michigan election officials will begin processing absentee ballots two days before the November 8 election under a law approved Wednesday in hopes of avoiding delays in counting, in which absentee voting is expected to remain a popular option.

Michigan is one of several major swing states that allow mail-in ballots without excuse, but do not allow local election offices to process ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day, which often results in tight races. Misinformation and lies to flood the public space can leave a gaping hole.

House Election and Ethics Committee chair Ann Bolin announced agreement on the election bills after months of negotiations. The bill passed the Republican-controlled Legislature and now goes to a Democrat, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Election offices in municipalities with a population of at least 10,000 will be allowed to remove absentee ballots from their outer envelopes on the Sunday before the election, although they will still be required to remove the secrecy sleeve or count the votes until 7 a.m. on election day. will not be allowed.

The package will also increase the security of ballot drop boxes and require county clerks to remove dead voters from the voter list monthly.

A 2018 voter-approved constitutional amendment allowed for absentee voting without excuse, and such turnout increased. A record-breaking 3.3 million people in Michigan voted absentee in the 2020 presidential election during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. More than half of all votes cast in the August primary were absent.

In addition to high-impact races for governor, attorney general and secretary of state, an initiative is being sought on the ballot this November establish abortion rights The state constitution is expected to lead to a higher turnout. Absentee ballots begin to go out Thursday, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said her office expects several million options this year.

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

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byram said absentee ballots take longer to process because of signature verification and that “it is not enough to allow local clerks to open the envelope ahead of time.”

The pre-processing of absentee ballots has been an issue since Benson’s first day in office in 2019, she said, and has been used as a form of “political football.”

Benson said, “While Michigan voters want election results on Election Day, while it remains an important safety issue for voters not to have to wait for results, we’re going to ask the Legislature to allow more processing time.” Will keep moving forward.” “It is clear that this is the right thing to do, and it escapes me why any legislator claiming to want a secure election would fail to carry out this fundamental change in law.”

Former President Donald Trump used battleground-delayed reporting to advance false claims that election workers misplaced ballots at midnight in Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee and other Democratic-leaning cities.

Benson said delays in reporting election results are “weaponizing misinformation” as political candidates claim victory before final results are out.

An initiative on this year’s ballot, brought by the same voting rights coalition that passed a constitutional amendment in 2018, will further expand the reach of absentee voting. The Boost Vote initiative will, among other things, allow people to be included on a permanent list to receive absentee ballots at every election, as well as require in-person early voting for nine days.

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