Senate approves Johnson absentee ballot processing bill

Senate approves Johnson absentee ballot processing bill

Senator Ruth Johnson

House panel reports AV counting board bill to floor

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Senate on Tuesday approved Sen. Ruth Johnson’s legislation to help local clerks begin the process to count an expected record number of absentee ballots in Michigan this fall.

The House Ways and Means Committee also approved a Johnson bill to allow shifts at absentee counting boards. The bill now heads to the full House.

“A record number of people in Michigan voted by an absentee or mail-in ballot during the August primary, and we are expecting that three million Michiganians could vote absentee in the Nov. 3 election — more than double the number from the last presidential election,” said Johnson, R-Holly. “These reforms would improve efficiency and protect the integrity of our elections by allowing local clerks to begin the preprocessing of ballots to prepare them to be counted more easily on Election Day and help reduce mistakes caused by long hours.

“Both bills provide safe and secure election processes while addressing the large turnout expected in the fall election.”

Senate Bill 757 would allow clerks of cities or townships with populations of least 25,000 people to perform certain preprocessing activities of absentee ballots prior to this year’s Nov. 3 election.

Local clerks would not be allowed to remove absentee ballots from their secrecy envelopes as part of their preprocessing work. They would also be required to secure the absentee ballots in containers approved by the Board of Canvassers for counting on Election Day. The process would also be open to election challengers.

Clerks would need to notify the secretary of state of their intention to use the provision at least 20 days prior to the election. That would be posted on the secretary of state’s website.

“This will only affect this year’s election, and we will look at the results and evaluate how best to move forward in future elections,” said Johnson, who served as Michigan secretary of state from 2011 to 2018.

In the House, SB 756 moved closer to final passage. It would allow local clerks to have shifts of workers in an absentee voter counting board as long as no one leaves the board location until after the polls have closed. Under the bill, there could be no gaps between shifts, ballots could never be left unattended and at least one election inspector from each major party must always be present.

“The process of verifying absentee ballots is time-consuming and can take hours,” Johnson said. “As the process drags on people can get fatigued and start making mistakes. Senate Bill 756 would allow clerks to address this problem by shifting in fresh workers at a counting board.”

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