State Senate OKs more time to process absentee ballots

LANSING (AP) — Larger Michigan municipalities could begin processing an expected surge of absentee ballots sooner in the battleground state's November presidential election under a bill approved Tuesday by the state Senate.

The 34-2 vote in the Republican-led chamber followed months of lobbying from clerks in both parties who warned of significant delays in counting the votes if they must wait until Election Day to open return envelopes.

The GOP-controlled House will consider the measure next.

Absentee voting, already on the rise in recent election cycles, is an increasingly popular option during the coronavirus pandemic and following the passage of a 2018 ballot initiative that lets people cast one for any reason.

A record 1.6 million people voted absentee in the August primary, nearly two-thirds of all who cast a ballot. Returned absentee ballots could surpass 3 million in November.

The legislation, which had been stalled in the Senate for months despite bipartisan support, would let clerks in communities with at least 25,000 residents open return envelopes for ballots the day before Election Day. They now cannot do so until polls open. Under the bill, the actual ballots would still stay inside secrecy envelopes until counting on Election Day.

Communities wanting the option would have to notify Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson no later than 20 days before Nov. 3.

In a letter to legislative leaders Tuesday, 17 clerks — both Democrats and Republicans — said processing an absentee ballot takes far more time than recording an in-person vote.

Also Tuesday, a House committee approved Senate-passed legislation that would allow for shifts at absentee counting boards, so tired workers no longer have to stay so long after the polls close.


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