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More changes needed for future elections

The tsunami of absentee ballots in this year's general election – 75 to 85 percent in many municipalities – could well be the norm for future elections following the passage of Proposal 3 in 2018, which permitted no reason absentee ballots. This year, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, a divisive presidential election driving turnout and the ease in which voters discovered they could vote and then turn in their ballots, has likely made it a whole new show. Which is great all around for the real reason we do it: democracy.

The only major hiccup? In Michigan, along with a handful of other states, it became Election Week instead of Election Day, because the Republican-led Michigan Legislature prevented local and county clerks from processing absentee ballots until 7 a.m. Tuesday, alleging concerns about ballot privacy and fraud. Deluged with absentee ballots, three weeks before election day, state legislators passed a minor concession to clerks, allowing municipalities with a population of over 25,000, to open the outside envelopes the ballots come in, beginning to process them the day before the election – legislation sponsored by state Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly), the former Michigan Secretary of State and Oakland County Clerk, who knows more than a little about elections. She had been pushing for this and other election changes for years.

Clerks around Oakland County said it helped immensely – but they need much more legislative assistance. States like Florida were able to deliver their election results when their polls closed on election night. That is because Florida election officials are allowed to begin processing their mail-in ballots 22 days before election day – meaning the hard work has been done on those ballots, and they can check and recheck them before it's high stakes time. Opening and processing absentee ballots before election day in other states has not compromised votes, privacy or introduced fraud into their elections. There is absolutely no reason to believe it would be any different in Michigan.

But rushing to accomplish the count, coupled with fatigue and human error, can have ramifications.

The Bipartisan Policy Center Task Force on Elections recommends clerks have at least seven days to process absentee ballots prior to election day. Just as Sen. Johnson has requested election assistance for years, so too has Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who told legislators as they were approving the extra day for processing, "Ultimately, it does a disservice to the 1,500 election officials who work tirelessly for their communities and our democracy, and doesn’t do enough to bring about more timely election results.”

In the new legislative session, we hope state representatives and senators listen to Benson, Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown and local municipal clerks and hear what they say they need. Only they know what is necessary to successfully conduct and process elections in Michigan without doubt or aspersions.

They're our frontline workers in the fight for our democracy.


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