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Whitmer signs bill to allow clerks to begin processing absentee ballots before Election Day

Under the bill, clerks will also be able to notify voters of any reason their vote won’t be counted within 48 hours.

LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Senate Bill 757, which will allow clerks in certain cities or townships to begin processing absentee ballots prior to Election Day on Nov. 3. 

Under the bill, clerks would be able to notify voters of any reason their vote won’t be counted within 48 hours. The governor signed the bill alongside Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

“We are anticipating historic turnouts in the November election, and we are committed to ensuring every Michigander can cast their vote safely, and that their votes are counted. Whether you mail in an absentee ballot, drop it off at your local clerk, or vote in person on election day, your vote will count on Nov. 3,” Whitmer said. “Michigan voters: request your ballot, fill it out, and drop it in the mail by Oct. 19 or take it to your local clerk’s office. Your voice will be heard in November.” 

SB 757 would amend the Michigan Election Law to allow clerks in cities or townships with a population of at least 25,000 to perform certain absent voter ballot pre-processing activities prior to Election Day, as long as they give notice of that action to the Secretary of State at least 20 days before Election Day.

This provision would apply only for the Nov. 3, 2020, general election, according to the press release.

Watch the press conference here.

The press release also said the Department of State would have to post any written notices on its website, and the clerk would have to post the notice on the city or township website. The bill would allow election inspectors on absent voter counting boards in cities or townships to work in shifts. Additionally, it would provide requirements for absent voter ballot drop boxes and notification requirements for absent voter ballot applications and ballots that were rejected for missing a signature or having one that did not match the signature on file. SB 757 is sponsored by Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly). 

“Michigan citizens can be confident their votes will count and the results of our elections will be an accurate reflection of the will of the people,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said during the press conference. “While it falls short of providing the relief clerks have asked for, Senate Bill 757 is a small step in the right direction to allow some clerks additional hours to open envelopes and prepare ballots to be tabulated on Election Day.”

The governor was also supposed to sign Senate Bill 117 at the press conference, which would allow service members and their spouses to return their ballots to their local clerks electronically if they are unable to do so in person. However, the Republican Legislature failed to send the bill to her desk in time. 

RELATED: Voter Guide 2020: What you need to know about the election in Michigan

“Elections are not the time to play partisan games. Our brave service members and their families put their lives on the line for us, and they deserve leaders who will help them vote,” Whitmer said. “It’s time for the legislature to stop playing games, get back to work, and send this bill to my desk.” 

SB 117 would amend the Michigan Election Law to require the Michigan Secretary of State (SOS) to create a process to allow eligible members to return ballots to their local clerks electronically. Eligible members include members of uniformed service on active duty or his or her spouse or member of the merchant marine or his or her spouse who, because of active duty or service, is absent from the U.S. and does not expect to return to the residence where the member or spouse is otherwise qualified to vote before an election. 

Currently, federal and state law require that ballots must be electronically transmitted or mailed to active duty members of the military at least 45 days before an election. The bill would require the SOS to promulgate rules that establish policies and procedures for the electronic return of voted ballots by eligible members of the military. SB 117 is sponsored by Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit). 

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