Absentee vote counting process at the former TCF Center, Nov. 4, 2020 | Ken Coleman
Michigan clerks may soon be able to process and count absentee ballots before Election Day should lawmakers pass newly introduced bills that sponsor state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) said aim to deter the kind of election disinformation that exploded across Michigan in the wake of the 2020 election.
“One of the biggest challenges for election administrators, and, quite frankly, one of the biggest election policy failures of the last couple of years, was the inaction from the Legislature to manage the record number of absent voter ballots submitted,” Moss said during a Michigan Senate Elections and Ethics Committee hearing on Tuesday.
“We know that this was one of the largest contributors to misinformation in 2020 that rose to national level attention,” Moss continued, referring to the false right-wing conspiracy theory that former Republican President Donald Trump won the 2020 election.
Senate Bills 386 and 387 would permit Michigan municipalities with a population of at least 5,000 people to begin processing and tabulating absentee ballots eight days before the election. All other communities could begin counting their absentee ballots at 7 a.m. on the Monday before Election Day. Currently, absentee ballots cannot be tabulated until Election Day.
Moss, who chairs the Senate election committee, announced the legislation immediately after committee members passed an eight-bill package that would implement sweeping changes to Michigan’s elections after voters passed Proposal 2 of 2022 – including expanding early voting and requiring absent voter drop boxes.
That package, an identical version of which passed the House’s elections committee on Tuesday, could receive a vote from the full Senate as early as Wednesday, Moss said.
Moss said Bills 386 and 387, which were introduced Tuesday and are now before the Senate Elections Committee, are meant to deter disinformation akin to that which spread about the 2020 election – which political experts said has weakened democracy in Michigan and across the country and shaken people’s faith in democratic institutions and norms.
Trump did not win the 2020 election, nationally or in Michigan. More than 250 state and local audits have confirmed Democratic President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Michigan and have not shown election fraud. A Republican-led report from the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee also concluded there was no evidence of fraud in the November 2020 election.
The false narrative espoused by many Republicans that Trump won emerged, in part, after Michigan, as well as other swing states, had to count a record number of absentee ballots – more than half of Michigan’s voters chose to vote by absentee ballot at a time that preceded the COVID-19 vaccines. That protracted count of absentee ballots in part led to right-wing disinformation about the 2020 election spreading like a wildfire, which was further fanned by Trump pushing the lie that he had won the election in Michigan and nationwide.
Some right-wing political leaders in Michigan, including former state GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock and current Republican Party Chair Kristina Karamo, also pushed the disinformation that has since taken root in a Michigan Republican Party that continues to espouse the lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
Karamo, who made an unsuccessful bid for Michigan Secretary of State in 2022, has continued to beat the false drum that absentee ballots play a starring role in election fraud – a stance that this week landed vehement criticism from a Michigan judge.
A Wayne County judge on Monday ruled that Karamo and other Republican Party officials must pay a combined $58,459 for filing a “frivolous” lawsuit that alleged there was wrongdoing in Detroit’s 2022 election. The suit sought to require residents in Detroit, Michigan’s largest city and has a majority African-American population, to vote in person or obtain their ballots in person at the clerk’s office. Michigan’s Constitution guarantees the right for people to vote absentee, per a 2018 amendment.
The lawsuit was “rife with speculation, an absence of facts, and a lack of understanding of Michigan election statutes and Detroit absentee ballot procedures,” Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny wrote in his Monday ruling.
The fact that Michigan legally was unable to fully process its absentee ballots before Election Day was one of the main drivers of this misinformation in 2020, Moss said Tuesday – and the chance for the state’s Democratic-led House and Senate to now pass legislation addressing that is crucial to the future of democracy.
“What we as lawmakers can do is ensure the accurate vote totals are known as early as possible, limiting the timeframe that false narratives are created,” Moss said.
A number of election officials and advocates backed Moss’s legislation, including Christopher Thomas, who for 36 years worked as Michigan’s Director of Elections under Democratic and Republican secretaries of state. He retired from the Michigan State Department in 2017 after 40 decades of election administration service.
Moss’s legislation would lead to a “more accurate count” that will not “be done in a high-pressure environment,” Thomas said during Tuesday’s committee meeting.
There would be “fewer errors” because “most of the absentee ballots will be processed and tabulated before Election Day,” Thomas continued. “That is a great step forward.”
Erica Peresman, a senior advisor to Promote the Vote, which spearheaded Proposal 2 of 2022 and worked with lawmakers to craft the eight-bill election reform package that just passed the Senate elections committee, said her organization “strongly supports” Moss’s legislation.
“It will allow Michigan to do what our clerks have been asking for, and what many states do securely and successfully,” Peresman said.
The bills would lead to “less stress for our election inspectors, and it means that results will be available much sooner. It will decrease the amount of disinformation that will be circulating,” she added.
Jacqueline Beaudry, Ann Arbor’s city clerk and the vice president of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks (MAMC), and MAMC Immediate Past President Marky Clark, also voiced their support for the legislation.
No one spoke against the legislation. Moss said he expects the bills to quickly move through committee and soon receive a vote from the full Senate.
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