Whitmer Signs New Legislation to Expand Voting Rights for Michigan Military Members Overseas

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks to members of the National Guard. (Governor Gretchen Whitmer via Facebook)

By Kyle Kaminski

May 2, 2023

New signed bipartisan legislation will ensure that absentee ballots from military and overseas voters are counted up to six days after an election.

LANSING—Overseas voters and military members from Michigan will have more time to cast their absentee ballots in future elections under a new bill signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Senate Bill 259—which passed with support from both Democrats and Republicans—allows mail-in ballots from military members and those living abroad to be counted up to six days after an election, just as long as they’re postmarked on or before Election Day. In previous elections, those ballots (and all others) had to be received by local clerks by 8 p.m. on Election Day. 

The legislation passed with enough support to take effect immediately.

“Michigan’s service members are the best of us,” Whitmer said in a statement. “I am proud to sign this legislation expanding absentee voter access to more service members bravely serving around the world. Let’s keep working to boost access to the ballot box and ensure election officials have the tools they need to run Michigan’s elections efficiently and effectively.”

The legislation brings Michigan election law up to date with the state Constitution after voters overwhelmingly approved Proposal 2 last fall, which significantly expanded absentee voting.

In addition to extra time for military and overseas voters, the ballot initiative also required nine days of early voting, ballot drop boxes for every 15,000 voters in a municipality, and state-funded postage for absentee applications and ballots. Legislation to enact those additional changes required as a result of the passage of Proposal 2 is en route, state lawmakers said.

READ MORE: Democratic Lawmakers Launch Plans to Expand Voting Rights in Michigan

“Our military personnel defend our democracy; we must defend their right to participate in our democracy,” State Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) said in a statement. “Senate Bill 259 ensures that ballots from active-duty service members and overseas voters will be counted.”

According to a US Election Assistance Commission report following the 2020 presidential election, 4.6% of Michigan military and overseas ballots were rejected compared to less than 1% of all absentee ballots. A total of 21,464 military and overseas ballots were counted in Michigan in the last presidential election. Clerks are required to electronically transmit or mail ballots to military and overseas voters who request them at least 45 days before an election.

State Sen. Paul Wojno (D-Warren) said the new legislation gives election officials the tools they need to “ensure our elections maintain the highest standards for transparency and integrity,” and gives servicemen and women the “peace of mind” that their ballot will be counted back home.

Last summer, Whitmer signed an executive directive designed to identify opportunities for state departments and agencies to help more eligible residents take advantage of their right to vote. In February, she also signed Senate Bill 13, which moved up the state’s presidential primary to February, ultimately strengthening Michiganders’ voices (and votes) in the nationwide election. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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