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Michigan lawmakers approve early processing of absentee ballots, hoping to avoid counting delays

Michigan election officials would begin processing absentee ballots two days before the Nov. 8 election under legislation passed Wednesday in hopes of avoiding counting delays, with absentee voting expected to remain an option. popular.

Michigan is one of several key swing states that allows no-excuses mail-in ballots but doesn’t allow local election offices to start processing ballots until 7 a.m. on Election Day, often delaying results in close races and can leave a huge void for disinformation 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 Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat.

Electoral offices in municipalities with a population of at least 10,000 could remove absentee ballots from their outer envelopes on the Sunday before the election, though they still would not be allowed to remove secrecy sleeves or count votes until 7 p.m. am on election day.

The package would also increase the security of ballot drop boxes and require county clerks to remove deceased voters from voter rolls on a monthly basis.

A voter-approved constitutional amendment in 2018 allowed for no-excuses absentee voting, and an increase in absentee voting followed. A record 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 absentee ballots.

In addition to the high-impact races for governor, attorney general and secretary of state, an initiative on the November ballot that seeks enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution is expected to lead to high voter turnout. Absentee ballots begin 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 to local election offices, but clerks still say it doesn’t go far enough. For years, they have asked for seven days of pre-processing before Election Day.

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

Preprocessing absentee ballots has been an issue since Benson’s first day in office in 2019, he said, and has been used as a “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 allow more processing time,” Benson said. “It is unequivocal that it is the right thing to do, and it is beyond me why legislators who claim to want safe elections would not comply with this basic change in the law.”

Former President Donald Trump used the delayed reporting in battleground states to push false claims that poll 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 are released,” Benson said.

An initiative on this year’s ballot introduced 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 in each election, in addition to requiring nine days of early voting in person.

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