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Bill Passes Michigan Senate, Allowing Qualifying Cities and Townships to Process Absentee Ballots Prior to Election Day

MailboxSocial distancing and precautionary measures taken by citizens across the state has moved voting from the ballot box to the mail box. As a result, local government officials in Michigan are anticipating record numbers of mail-in ballots for this November’s general election. According to Michigan Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, over 2.1 million absentee ballots have already been requested—far surpassing the 1.2 million requested in the 2016 presidential election.

Given this unprecedented influx of absentee voting, local government officials tasked with processing ballots have begun to express concern over the logistical issues which may arise on Election Day. In response to this concern, the Michigan Legislature has begun to take action.

Bill Summary:

On Tuesday, September 15, the Michigan Senate passed Senate Bill 757, which would allow qualifying cities and townships across the state to begin processing their absentee ballots on November 2, the day prior to Election Day. Currently, clerks are not allowed to begin processing ballots until Election Day. This extension is intended to grant local government officials the time necessary to organize and prepare absentee ballots and ensure a reliably administered election. These ballots will not actually be counted until Election Day on November 3.

In order to qualify, the city or township must have a population of at least 25,000 and provide notice to the Secretary of State at least 40 days prior to Election Day. In addition, adequate notice must be provided to the public through both the state and local government websites.

What Does This Mean for Michigan Voters?

Overall, this bill, if enacted, will not have a substantial impact on Michigan voters. Instead, the Legislature hopes allowing clerks to begin processing absentee ballots sooner will lead to quicker tally of votes on Election Day. This should lead to results being announced the night of the election rather than the following morning.

It is a common misconception that this bill will allow absentee voters to engage in a form of early voting given their ballot is processed the day before the election. That is not the case. Ballot processing is largely an administrative procedure. During processing, election officials are concerned with confirming the identity and eligibility of the absentee voter through signature comparisons and registration records. If deemed acceptable, the ballot is placed within a secured envelope. The contents of the absentee ballot are to remain unknown to the election official throughout the entire process. The ballot is then opened and counted on Election Day.

The one notable change for voters is their ability to spoil their ballot. Current state law allows voters who have submitted an absentee ballot to spoil their ballot prior to Election Day if done in person by 4:00 P.M. the day before the election. However, if this bill is passed, the deadline for voters to spoil their ballot would be pushed forward to 10:00 A.M. the day before the election.

Bill Forecast:

Senate Bill 757 has successfully passed the Michigan Senate. To become law, the bill must pass through the Michigan House of Representatives and be signed into law by Michigan’s Governor, Gretchen Whitmer. The bill appears to have bi-partisan support and will continue through the legislative process. As drafted, the bill will be effective in time for the November 2020 election.

For questions related to this communication and for questions or assistance related to election law issues in general, please contact your Foster Swift attorney or a member of Foster Swift’s election & campaign finance law team:

Categories: Alerts and Updates, Legislative Updates

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practice focuses on bankruptcy, municipal law, collections, and trial-level and appeals litigation. In the bankruptcy arena, she represents primarily Chapter 7 trustees. Laura has handled a wide range of trial and appellate matters for individual and business clients and has appeared before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Michigan Court of Appeals, and the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Michigan, as well as Michigan circuit and district courts across the state.

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Cody is a member of the firm’s Business and Tax Practice Group and works in the Grand Rapids and Lansing offices. He works with clients on entity planning and formation, drafts commercial transaction documents, and provides counsel to clients on securities and tax issues. Cody is also a part of the firm’s Election and Campaign Finance Law Group. He provides advice to candidates, their committees, and public bodies on Michigan campaign finance and election law issues.

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