By JOEY CAPPELLETTI – Associated Press/Report for America
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan election officials would begin processing mail-in ballots two days before the Nov. 8 election under legislation approved Wednesday in hopes of avoiding counting delays, the postal voting should remain a popular option.
Michigan is one of several key swing states that allow no-excuse absentee ballots but do not allow local election offices to begin processing ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day, which which often delays results in close races and can leave a gaping hole for misinformation and lies to flood the public space.
Ann Bollin, chair of the House Elections and Ethics Committee, announced the agreement on the election bills after months of negotiations. The bills passed the Republican-controlled Legislature and now go to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat.
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Election offices in municipalities with at least 10,000 residents would be allowed to remove mail-in ballots from their outer envelopes on the Sunday before the election, but they would still not be allowed to remove secret pockets or count votes before 7 a.m. on election day.
The package would also increase ballot box security and require county clerks to remove deceased voters from voter rolls each month.
A constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2018 allowed no-excuse mail-in voting, and an increase in such voting followed. A record 3.3 million people in Michigan voted absentee in the 2020 presidential election at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. More than half of all votes cast in the August primary were absentees.
In addition to high-impact races for governor, attorney general and secretary of state, a November ballot initiative to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution is expected to drive strong voter turnout. . Mail-in ballots begin going out Thursday, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said her office expects several million people to choose the option this year.
The legislation would bring some relief to local election offices, but clerks still say it doesn’t go far enough. For years, they asked for seven days for pre-processing before election day.
Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said mail-in ballots are taking longer to process due to verification of signatures and “just allowing local clerks to open the envelope in advance is not enough”.
Pre-processing mail-in ballots has been a problem since Benson’s first day in office in 2019, she said, and it’s been used as “political football.”
“As long as Michigan voters want election results on Election Day, as long as it remains a significant security issue for voters not having to wait for results, we will continue to push the Legislature to grant more processing time,” Benson said. “It is unequivocally the right thing to do, and it escapes me why lawmakers who claim to want safe elections would disregard this fundamental change in the law.”
Former President Donald Trump used delayed reporting in battleground states to push false claims that poll workers tampered with ballots in the middle of the night in Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee and other cities Democratic leaning.
Delays in reporting election results lead to “weaponized disinformation” as political candidates claim victory before the final results arrive,” Benson said.
An initiative on this year’s ballot launched by the same voting rights coalition that passed the constitutional amendment in 2018 would further increase the accessibility of mail-in voting. The Promote the Vote initiative would, among other things, allow people to register on a permanent list to receive mail-in ballots each election, while requiring nine days of early in-person voting.
Joey Cappelletti is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.
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