Whitmer approves earlier processing of absentee ballots
Clerks in Michigan cities or township of at least 25,000 people can start processing a surge of absentee ballots a day before November’s presidential election under legislation signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday.
About 2.7 million voters have requested ballots, many more than in 2016. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson projected that more residents will vote than at any point in state history.
“That’s truly remarkable in the midst of a global pandemic,” she said while joining the Democratic governor for the bill-signing event at the Capitol.
Election officials previously couldn’t remove ballots from outer envelopes until 7 a.m. on Election Day, which this year is Nov. 3. The new law lets them be opened between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 2. Ballots will remain in secrecy envelopes until being counted on Nov. 3.
The law allows for shifts at absentee counting boards so tired workers no longer have to stay so long, and requires clerks to notify a voter whose ballot application or ballot is rejected because the signature on the application or envelope does not match what is in the database.
The law also includes security requirements for newly installed boxes where voters can drop off absentee ballots instead of using the mail.
Benson, a Democrat, urged people who plan to return their ballot by mail to do it no later than two weeks before Election Day due to potential postal delays. At that point, they should take it to their clerk or use a clerk’s drop box — more than 1,000 of which have been installed in recent months, she said.
Benson cautioned that because absentee ballots cannot begin to be counted until 7 a.m. on Election Day, the count may not be final until three days after the election.
She called the law a “step in the right direction” but said it does not go far enough because clerks should be able to start processing ballots at least seven days before the election.
The bill sponsor, Republican Sen. Ruth Johnson, a former secretary of state, said last week that one day “can really make a difference.” She said allotting additional days would have been difficult because the new law will require volunteer election inspectors from both major political parties to observe the removal of ballots from their outer envelopes. Challengers also can observe the process.
“You need to make sure that there’s integrity,” she said.
Johnson noted the impact of COVID-19 on the ability to find workers and volunteers.
“I think when you do it on Monday that makes sure that we can find enough people to fill these important roles overseeing our election and to ensure to others that it’s open and fair,” she said.