One More Day! Larger MI Jurisdictions Get More Time to Process Absentee Ballots

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Michigan’s Governor has signed a new law that will give larger jurisdictions an extra day to process absentee ballots before Election Day, providing modest but welcome relief to local clerks facing a mountain of mail ballots in 2020. The Detroit Free Press has more:

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill Tuesday that will give clerks a little extra time to process, but not count, absentee ballots ahead of Election Day.

The new law comes less than 30 days before an election where the presidency is on the line and after millions of Michigan voters have already received their absentee ballots.

“In a democracy, everyone eligible, and every vote that is eligibly cast needs to be counted. And the will of the people must prevail,” Whitmer said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Absentee ballots are way up in Michigan, like they are in many states – and the Secretary of State believes it is not just an aberration for 2020:

More than 2.7 million Michigan voters have already requested absentee ballots and more than 2.6 million ballots have been delivered, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said during the same news conference.

Voters have returned 380,000 ballots so far, Benson said. The huge participation reflects the reality of changing elections, not only this year but moving into the future, she said.

“This is not going to be unique to 2020. We are indeed in a new normal, for our elections and for our democracy,” Benson said.

“That’s why it’s so important, as I and clerks have been asking our legislature to do since I took office — update our laws to reflect this new normal.”

In 2018, Michigan voters approved a change to the state constitution that allows voters to request absentee ballots without citing a reason. The change, in addition to the fear of catching the coronavirus at a packed polling place, are fueling the surge in absentee voting participation.

Local officials applauded the move, but sought to make it clear the extra time doesn’t mean counting will be complete on Election Night:

Clerks are generally appreciative of the bill, said Benson and Mary Clark, the clerk for Delta Township. But both noted an extra 10 hours to process ballots ahead of Election Day does not mean clerks will have election results immediately after the polls close.

“There are a lot of factors that come into play to understand that it isn’t a magic button that gets pushed at 8 p.m.,” Clark said, referencing the time polls close on Nov. 3.

Under Senate Bill 757, clerks in municipalities with more than 25,000 people will be allowed to process absentee ballots from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 2. That involves opening outer envelopes, checking ballots are signed and sorting ballots ahead of Election Day.

They’re relatively simple administrative tasks, but before this law change clerks could not do any processing of absentee ballots until the morning of Election Day. The extra time the day before the election cuts down on duties on Nov. 3, crucial in tabulating final results for an election where a record number of absentee ballots are expected to be cast.

Localities will have to notify the state if they are using the extra time, and will also be subject to monitoring procedures in place for new dropboxes placed outside between now and Election Day:

There are about 72 municipalities that would be eligible to process ballots early. Benson spokesman Jake Rollow said earlier in the day he’s not sure how many will participate, but the law requires the cities let the state know by Oct. 14 if they plan to process ballots early.

In addition to extra processing time, the bill allows for extra work shifts to count absentee ballots and requires clerks to follow up with voters if a signature is not included on a ballot or that signature does not match what’s on file with the state. Benson thanked lawmakers for including this change.

“This is critical to ensuring our security protocol, with our ballots, ensuring every valid vote is counted,” Benson said.

It also requires clerks to have video monitoring for absentee ballot drop boxes located outside and purchased by jurisdictions after Oct. 1. There are more than 1,000 drop boxes around the state — essentially mail boxes where voters may return absentee ballots. A Benson spokesman said most clerks are already monitoring their drop boxes.

This new, albeit modest, law is the culmination of a lengthy lobbying campaign by local officials to get more time to process ballots before Election Day so they can be counted on Election Day. Hopefully the extra time will give clerks some breathing room in the face of record numbers of ballots this fall. Stay tuned …

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