Michigan is trying to take an extra step to ensure your vote is counted. Here’s how.
LANSING, Mich.—Imagine submitting your absentee ballot but having it rejected because your signature doesn’t exactly match the signature the state has on record for you. Right now, that’s a real possibility, based on antiquated voting laws currently in place.
But Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has been trying to pass a pair of voting laws that would change current laws in a way she hopes will allow people to continue casting their valid ballots while giving local election clerks more guidance when it comes to determining if those ballots are indeed valid.
The state’s move toward defining its current voting laws is a positive one, according to Shira Roza, the voting rights manager for Promote the Vote, a coalition of pro-voter organizations and voting rights advocates.
“(The proposed rules) will go a long way towards modernizing Michigan’s elections and protecting the constitutional right to vote by absentee ballot, which is shared by all registered voters,” Roza said.
So, how would those proposed voting laws work if adopted? Here’s a breakdown of the rules.
An Unnecessary Challenge
Benson is proposing two sets of voting rules. The first would provide a set of standards for clerks to look at when determining whether signatures on absentee ballots and ballot applications are valid. The second explains more about Michigan’s online portal that voters use to apply for those ballots.
So, what does that mean, exactly? Well, for the first rule, it means outlining specifically what local election clerks have to look for when it comes to signatures that don’t look exactly alike signatures on record.
The rule essentially clarifies the existing rule, which requires local clerks to reject absentee ballots that have signatures that don’t match the state’s recorded version. But the current rule leaves the rule at that, meaning clerks are left to define them however they feel fit.
That process can be challenging for clerks, who already have their hands full handling the day-to-day tasks of running an election. The new rule sets a new precedent that when reviewing signatures, a certain standard should be set that signatures are presumed to be valid.
Valid Until Proven Otherwise
The presumption of validity is important because it means overwhelming evidence that the signature is not the same would be needed in order to reject the ballot. It also doesn’t conflict with the rule requiring a signature but rather clears up what the laws didn’t previously.
“Providing uniform, enforceable guidance for determining signature validity—starting with a presumption of validity—will go a long way towards ensuring that all Michiganders are able to fully exercise their constitutional right to vote by absentee ballot,” Progress Michigan wrote in a response supporting the introduction of the laws.
These proposed laws also come at a time when Republicans are seeking to pass their own election laws that include requiring ID for absentee ballot applications while removing other ways of in-person voting access, meaning they are that much more essential to ensure disenfranchised voters have the access and rights they are entitled to.
Long Road Ahead
There is still much to be done before the fate of Benson’s proposed laws is determined. Public comments made at an Oct. 1 public hearing in which the rules were formally introduced must be reviewed. Reports have to be made and are to be submitted to state departments.
Outside of other technical steps, the final move is for a legislative joint committee to accept and review a full package of materials relating to the rules. That body will then have 15 days to act.