Senate panel approves Johnson absentee ballot processing bills

Senate panel approves Johnson absentee ballot processing bills

Senator Ruth Johnson

LANSING, Mich. — The Senate Elections Committee on Thursday approved two measures sponsored by Sen. Ruth Johnson to help local clerks meet the expected increase in absentee ballots in Michigan this year.

In 2018, Michigan voters approved Proposal 3, which enacted many voting changes, including no-reason absentee voting. Many officials are concerned that the significant increase expected in absentee ballots will pose a challenge to timely vote counting, particularly in larger areas.

“Local clerks from across our state are already seeing dramatic increases in requests for absentee ballots this year,” said Johnson, R-Holly, who served as Michigan secretary of state from 2011 to 2018. “These important reforms would improve Election Day efficiency and enable election workers to count the votes in a timely manner — and do so while safeguarding secret ballots and maintaining the integrity of our elections.”

Senate Bill 756 would allow clerks in certain cities or townships to have a subsequent shift of workers in an absentee voter counting board as long as no one leaves the board location until after the polls have closed. 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.

SB 757 would allow some city or township clerks to perform certain preprocessing of absentee ballots on the Monday prior to an election. However, 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.

Both bills would apply to cities or townships with at least 10,000 active registered voters and would require the clerks to notify the secretary of state of their intention to use the provision at least 40 days prior to an election. That would be posted on the secretary of state’s website.

Last month, several local clerks testified in support of Johnson’s bills, including Waterford Township Clerk Kim Markee, Livonia City Clerk Susan Nash, Bloomfield Township Clerk Jan Roncelli, Troy City Clerk Aileen Dickson, Rochester Hills City Clerk Tina Barton, Ottawa County Clerk Register of Deeds Justin Roebuck, Delta Township Clerk Mary Clark, and Ann Arbor City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry.

SBs 756 and 757 are supported by the Michigan Association of County Clerks and the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks. The bills now head to the full Senate for consideration.

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