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Michigan House Passes Election Law Reforms Addressing Reportable Conditions, Precinct Sizes, and AV Counting Boards

Michigan House of RepresentativesThe Michigan House of Representatives has introduced and passed, with wide bipartisan support, a number of election reform bills. The bulk of the bills are in response to a 2019 report issued by the Michigan Office of the Auditor General (“OAG Report”). The OAG Report identified three “reportable conditions” and one “material condition”; House Bills 4127-31 attempt to correct the reportable conditions (the material condition is an internal access issue and is being resolved administratively). Separately, the House passed HB 4134 to increase the size of precincts and HB 4135 to amend the rules for absent voter counting boards.

Earlier this week, the bills were transmitted to the Michigan Senate and referred to the Committee on Elections.

The following is a breakdown of the bill packages:

HB 4127-31: Reportable Conditions

Reportable conditions are matters that are less severe than a material condition and include one or more of the following: an opportunity for improvement, a deficiency in an internal control that is significant, significant violations of contracts or grant agreements, or significant abuse that has or is likely to have occurred. The OAG Report made three findings related to the reportable conditions.

Finding 1: Missing or Placeholder Birthdates.

The OAG found hundreds of voters with missing or placeholder birthdays. The qualified voter file does not permit election workers to leave the date of birth field blank. When a voter’s birthday is missing or unknown, election workers have used placeholders, such as 01/01/1900.

HB 4127-28 would rectify this by removing from the voter rolls those voters that (i) have a placeholder birthdate, (ii) have not voted since 2000, and (iii) did not respond to any required mailings or otherwise confirm their birthday within the next two general elections. In other words, those voters with placeholders will need to confirm their birthday or risk having to re-register.

In addition to resolving the placeholder issue, these bills include a substitute to require a local clerk to notify a voter if his or her signature on the return card did not match the signature on file.

Finding 2: Clerk Trainings.

County, city, and township clerks are required to complete certain trainings to become or remain accredited. However, the vast majority of clerks have not completed such trainings. Only 14% of county clerks, 14% of city clerks, and 23% of township clerks have completed all required trainings.

HB 4129 would post the names of the clerks that have not completed the required trainings on the Secretary of State’s website in odd-numbered years — presumably, to alert voters and residents that their clerk is not properly accredited.

Finding 3: Extended Deadlines.

Local clerks are responsible for determining whether a campaign statement or report complies with the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. If the statement or report does not comply or has not been submitted, the clerk is required to contact the filer to alert him or her of the issue. The filer then has 9 days to correct the filing, after which, the local clerk has 10 days to determine if the filing has been sufficiently corrected.

The OAG Report found officials frequently failed to complete the required reviews within the prescribed timeline. HB 4130-31’s solution is to extend the number of business days in which the Bureau of Elections and local officials must conduct their reviews under the Campaign Finance Act. Previously, most actions must have been completed within 14 days; now, officials will typically have 30-plus days to take any required actions.

HB 4134: Precinct Sizes and Absent Voters

Under Michigan Election Law, voters are divided into precincts that contain no more than 2,900 active registered voters. An active registered voter is a voter that has voted in the past six years or has responded to an inactive voter notice sent by an election official. HB 4134 would allow precincts to be consolidated for all elections except the November general election. A consolidated precinct could serve up to 4,000 active voters, an increase from the current cap of 2,900. Election officials hope consolidated precincts will allow smaller units of government to save funds by needing fewer numbers of voting equipment and resources.

Included in HB 4134 is a requirement that county, city, and township clerks maintain and use a permanent absent voter list. Any voter could request to be added to the permanent absent voter list and receive an absentee ballot application (but not an absentee ballot) automatically before each election. Currently, voters must request an application before each election.

HB 4135: Absent Voter Counting Boards

Currently, a town or city’s election commission can establish an absent voter counting board for the purpose of processing and counting absent voter (AV) ballots instead of sending the AV ballots to the voter’s precinct to be counted. This allows AV ballots to be processed separately and concurrently with paper ballots, instead of being fed through the same tabulators that count paper ballots at each precinct after the polls are closed. This gives the township or city a chance to dramatically decrease the amount of time it takes to count ballots.

HB 4135 takes the option of creating an AV counting board and makes it a requirement. Any city or township must create an AV counting board for each of its precincts unless the city or township has (i) only one precinct, or (ii) two precincts but fewer than 6,000 active voters. The Legislature determined the AV counting board is necessary to handle the increase in voter participation and absentee voters after the enactment of no-reason absentee voting. The goal is to report results quicker and avoid the uncertainty caused by delays – as we saw in the 2020 general election.

As mentioned above, these bills are now in the Senate Committee on Election. We will be sure to keep you updated as the bills move through the Senate and to the Governor’s office for her signature.

If you have any questions regarding this communication or Michigan election law, please contact one of our election law attorneys:

Categories: Alerts and Updates, Legislative Updates, News

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Associate

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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