Bipartisan legislation signed this week by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer officially aligns state law with a recent constitutional amendment to expand voting rights—including a full nine days of early voting.
LANSING—More than 2.5 million Michiganders said they wanted easier access to the polling booth when they voted to pass Proposal 2 in November with about 60% of the statewide vote.
The initiative, otherwise known as “Promote the Vote,” locked certain voting rights into the state Constitution—all of which are centered around reducing barriers to the ballot, and ultimately making it simpler for Michiganders to make their voices heard both before and on Election Day.
And this week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer followed up on the will of the voters by signing a series of eight bills into law that are designed to expand both voting access and integrity—and ultimately make it easier for all Michiganders to make their voices heard in every election.
“Voting is the cornerstone of our system of government,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Let’s keep fighting to expand the constitutional right to vote freely, fairly, and securely with common sense reforms so we can build a government of the people that delivers for the people.”
Here’s a quick overview of each of the newly signed bills, and what they aim to accomplish:
Proposal 2 amended the state Constitution to ensure all Michigan voters won’t have to wait until Election Day to cast their ballot. Specifically, the constitution now calls for at least nine days of early in-person voting, for at least eight hours a day, starting on the second Saturday and ending on the Sunday before every statewide and federal election. Senate Bill 367 enshrines that into law, and authorizes clerks to start pre-processing absentee ballots before the polls are closed.
State Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) was the lead sponsor of the eight-bill package, and oversaw hearings on the bills last month as the chairman of the Senate Elections and Ethics Committee. Each of them were passed in the House and Senate with bipartisan support.
“Voters deserve more choices to vote in person than to attempt to squeeze in the time during a work day on a Tuesday to go to a polling site and potentially face long lines,” he said last month.
Under the new law, all counties and townships in Michigan will be required to make detailed plans, and implement at least nine days of early voting—beginning with next year’s Presidential Primary Election in February. But not all counties and townships need to open every precinct.
Instead, different municipalities across Michigan (like two townships or a county and township) can partner to create a single early voting location—just as long as every voter in every county is afforded an opportunity to vote early for at least nine days before the election, Moss said.
“We recognize that we are a diverse state with diverse communities requiring flexible choices,” he said, noting that some smaller townships would struggle to afford their own voting sites.
The legislation also sets nine days as the minimum; not the cap. Under the bill, election clerks can choose to operate early voting centers even earlier, up to 29 days before an election.
“There’s no one-size-fits all option because that would not have worked for Michigan,” said Erica Peresman, senior advisor at Promote the Vote, the organization that crafted Proposal 2. “Rather, each municipality will have the ability to choose how they conduct their early voting.”
The new law also reforms an existing state requirement that the polling locations be housed inside municipal buildings like schools or police stations. Instead, clerks can now choose to lease private space—just as long as it’s not owned by an elected official or candidate.
It also prohibits anyone from intentionally disclosing election results from the early voting locations before 8 p.m. on Election Day. House Bill 4696, which was also signed by Whitmer this week, makes it a felony to intentionally release any election results before that time.
Automatic Absentee Ballots
Proposal 2 allows Michiganders to automatically receive an absentee ballot for every future election without having to apply for a new ballot for each election cycle.
House Bill 4699 formally codifies that procedure into state law—enabling voters to submit one absentee ballot application to receive absentee ballots for all future elections.
The changes fulfill a clear mandate in the newly amended state Constitution, as well as offer a new time-saving convenience for voters who are increasingly choosing to vote via mail.
Last year, Michigan set a record for the highest voter turnout in state history, with more than 4.3 million Michiganders casting ballots, and about 1.8 million doing so by absentee ballot. Enabling more convenient access to future absentee ballots will keep the trend going, Peresman said.
“This is a grand new step to having the most accessible, convenient, efficient, and voter-focused elections system in the country,” she told lawmakers last month, noting that a single ballot application will also save time for clerks and eliminate the need for “repetitive paperwork.”
Under the new law, the continuous flow of absentee ballots to voters will only be rescinded upon request, or if the recipient is no longer eligible to vote or hasn’t voted in six consecutive years. Clerks can also rescind ballots if they suspect the voter has moved to another state.
Other Election Changes
Local election clerks—as well as Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson—have lauded the importance of the recent reforms and the impact they’ll have on elections starting in 2024.
“This is what it means to have a government that works for the people,” Benson said this week. “These bills provide the flexibility and resources we need to carry out the will of the voters while providing the flexibility needed by clerks in counties, cities and townships of all sizes.”
House Bill 4697 requires every city or township to install at least one absentee ballot drop box per every 15,000 registered voters. Officials estimate that the change in state law will involve at least 1,800 new drop boxes being installed across Michigan, at a total cost of at least $14.3 million—some of which could still be covered through an appropriation from the legislature.
Senate Bill 370 also requires pre-paid postage (with envelopes) to be provided for absentee ballot applications.
“Voting is one of our most basic foundational rights,” state Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) said in a statement. “Access to drop boxes has proven to be a secure, effective way for Michiganders to exercise that right.”
House Bill 4702 allows election clerks to operate fewer polling locations on Election Day—changing the requirement for one polling location for every 2,999 voters to one for every 5,000. Local clerks have said the shift will offset the new costs of early voting by allowing smaller cities to consolidate precincts that don’t typically attract large crowds of voters.
Senate Bill 373 allows Michiganders to use additional forms of photo identification besides their passports or Michigan driver’s license to verify their identity at the polls—including out-of-state driver’s licenses, state, local and tribal government identification cards, and student IDs.
As always, all voters must still be registered to vote to cast a ballot. Those without photo identification will still have the right to vote after signing an affidavit to verify their identity.
“Students of any valid educational institution should be able to use their student ID as voter ID so we can increase voting among students of all ages,” state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) said in a statement on Tuesday. “I’ve introduced legislation several times before to allow municipal ID to be used as voter ID and am excited that this is finally Michigan law.”
Also signed this week: Senate Bill 339, which requires the Secretary of State to roll out a new online tracking system that allows voters to track the status of their ballots. It will ensure voters are notified when their vote is received and counted, as well as inform them of potential errors.
Senate Bill 259—which was signed by Whitmer last month—also aligns with the new constitutional requirements set out in Proposal 2. It allows absentee ballots from military members (and their spouses and voting-age dependents) to still be counted as long as they are signed and dated by Election Day, and received by a local clerk up to six days after the election.
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