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Judge: Michigan election challenger manual can't be used

The manual was prompted by disputes over the 2020 election, the Bureau of Elections said in a legal brief

A Michigan judge on Thursday ruled that state elections officials can't use a manual outlining the rights and duties of election challengers and poll watchers.

Court of Claims Judge Brock Swartzle's order comes just weeks ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.

Swartzle found that some provisions in the election challenger manual — such as a ban on the use of electronic devices at absentee counting boards — were at odds with the law or failed to undergo the proper rule-making procedure with input from the public and state lawmakers, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The manual was prompted by disputes over the 2020 election, the Bureau of Elections said in a legal brief.

The new instructions for election challengers were in place for the August primary. The Michigan GOP and Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of the manual.

“This is an incredible victory for election integrity and the rule of law in Michigan,” said Ron Weiser, Michigan GOP chair. “Our goal as a party continues to be the same: We want to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat and we won’t take our eyes off the ball.”

Election challengers credentialed by political parties and organizations can contest a voter’s eligibility to cast a ballot. They also can challenge election procedures at polling locations and counting boards that process absentee ballots. Poll watchers observe election day activities.

Swartzle's order requires Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and state Elections Director Jonathan Brater to rescind the manual or revise it to comply with Michigan election law.

Swartzle wrote that Benson and Brater “exceeded their authority with respect to certain provisions” in the manual, according to the newspaper.

The order deems invalid instructions that required challengers to present credentials issued using a form from Benson's office and restricted election challengers’ communication to only those designated as challenger liaisons.

Swartzle also took issue with prohibiting challengers’ possession of cell phones, tablets and computers in counting rooms where absentee ballots are processed. State election law prohibits challengers from communicating information from absentee counting boards related “to the processing or tallying of votes” before the polls close.

“We will appeal this ruling to provide certainty to all voters, clerks, election workers and election challengers on how to maintain the peace and order at all voting locations that state law requires and every voter expects and deserves," Michigan Department of State spokesman Jake Rollow wrote Thursday to The Associated Press.

Rollow added that “... the Michigan Bureau of Elections has always provided clear and detailed instruction for interaction among all participants to ensure legal compliance, transparency, and equal treatment of all voters.”

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