Benson calls for election reforms, including more absentee processing time

Michigan

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office on Monday announced several actions it would like the state Legislature to take, including allowing more time for absentee ballots to be processed before election days, prohibiting open carry of guns at polling places and make Election Day a state holiday, among other things.

One of Benson’s key proposals would expand a bill from last year that allowed local clerks to start processing returned absentee ballots — but not actually counting them — before election day. Before the November election, the Legislature granted larger cities 10 extra hours to get those ballots ready. Local clerks and Benson say that wasn’t enough time. On Monday, her office proposed two weeks of early processing time.

The proposals listed in Benson’s Advancing the Vote, Protecting Democracy initiative include others she has called for before, including allowing ballots that arrived late to be counted if they were postmarked by election day.

She also asked the Legislature to ban the open carry of firearms within 100 feet of polling places, a move she tried to make unilaterally before November’s election before a court ruled it was outside her authority.

Benson’s office also suggested several other reforms, which she broke up into three categories:

Equitable Access

  • Require absentee ballot applications to be mailed to every registered voter before every federal election cycle.
  • Establish early in-person voting. at clerk’s offices.
  • Make Election Day a state holiday.
  • Allow overseas service members and their spouses to return their ballots electronically.
  • Require translated election materials in areas with non-English speaking communities.
  • Provide local clerks with funding to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and set up curbside voting.
  • Allow transportation assistance for people to get to the polls.

Strong Infrastructure

  • Add an extra week after the election for county canvassing.
  • Allow recounts in precincts where clerical mistakes happen.
  • Consolidate the May and August elections into one in June.
  • Provide “dependable funding” for local election officials.
  • Update language on absentee ballots and applications.

Secure Elections

  • Prohibit practices that deceive or mislead voters.
  • Provide election officials additional tools for maintaining the registration list.
  • Mandate training standards for election workers and challengers.
  • Update security requirements for election vendors.
  • Require a statewide risk-limiting audit of election results before they are certified by the state.

During a virtual press conference Monday, Benson described the proposals as “data-driven and nonpartisan.”

“Our job now is clear: to defend and protect every Michigan voter, their votes and their democracy,” she said. “Because no matter how one votes or who they vote for, where they live or what they look like, their vote is the lifeblood of our democracy. Ensuring it counts is central to our work as election officials. It’s in our oath of office when we pledge to support the United States Constitution and that of the state of Michigan, both of which establish every citizen’s fundamental right to vote.”

Benson said she is working with state Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, vice chair of the House Elections and Ethics Committee; and state Sens. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield; Adam Hollier, D-Detroit: and Paul Wojno, D-Warren, on drafting bills to go before the Republican-led Legislature. Some of the proposals are sure to meet immediate Republican resistance, notably the gun ban and required mailing of absentee ballot applications.

“Across the country, legislative leaders are trying to make it harder to vote in person and impossible to vote absentee. They claim this will restore faith in elections, when the only voters who have lost faith are those who believed the lies about our elections that these same leaders told, amplified or allowed through their silence to go uncorrected,” Benson, a Democrat, said. “Indeed, if these legislators truly want to support elections, their task is simple: Tell the voters the truth.”

Benson said the November election was secure and successful.

Some 5.5 million Michigan residents voted. Nearly 3.5 million of the votes were cast absentee, smashing previous records. The reason was two-fold: First, Michigan recently made it easier to vote absentee and second, state officials encouraged it as a coronavirus mitigation measure.

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