People convicted of election-related crimes could be barred from serving on boards certifying votes

A Driving For Democracy Caravan urges the Board of State Canvassers to certify the 2020 presidential election results on Nov. 11, 2020. (Michigan Advance/Allison R. Donahue)

By Michigan Advance

March 13, 2024

BY KATIE O’BRIEN KELLEY, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

MICHIGAN—The state House Elections Committee on Tuesday discussed two bills, House Bill 5551 and House Bill 5550, that would change procedures for recalls and eligibility to serve on elections panels.

State Rep. Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield) provided testimony for House Bill 5551. The bill “prohibits individuals convicted of certain election-related crimes from serving on the Board of State Canvassers (BSC) or any county’s board of election canvassers,” Arbit explained.

“My testimony is going to be relatively short and sweet because this bill is quite simple, and, I hope, is common sense for everyone,” Arbit said. “The basic premise is this: Our democracy is sacred, our electoral process is sacred, and individuals who have shown a willingness to abuse, undermine, interfere or corrupt the electoral process by violating Michigan election law have no business overseeing our state’s elections, let alone certifying results. Period. End of story.”

Arbit said Michigan election law already prohibits individuals who have committed election-related crimes from serving as election inspectors at precincts. He said enforcing this same requirement for state and county canvassers is “common sense.”

“It is my sincere hope that we will never see someone with a proven record of violating election law ascend to this role and that no governor or county official would ever appoint such a person to this position,” Arbit said.

Rep. Jay DeBoyer (R-Clay Twp.) asked if it would be beneficial to outline a timeline within the bill.

“We’re basically saying ‘forever’ with this legislation,” DeBoyer said. “And we don’t even put that standard in place when it comes to holding elected office.”

Arbit said he doesn’t think it would be beneficial to establish a timeline in the bill.

“As I said, Michigan law already states that election inspectors could not have violated election law,” Arbit said. “I’m not really interested in legislation that gives an out for someone who’s done it before. I don’t care what time period is elapsed.”

Voters Not Politicians Programs Director Kim Murphy-Kovalick also testified in support of House Bill 5551. She said that the offenses outlined in the bill should “unquestionably” prohibit an individual from serving on a board of state or county canvassers.

Some of the offenses cited in the bill include: false statements and forgery in connection with an absentee voter application, unlawful interference of an election inspector by a challenger, false affidavit filed by a candidate and unlawfully disclosing election results before 8 p.m. on Election Day.

“For the same reason that you wouldn’t leave a fox in charge of the henhouse, it is illogical to allow those who have already been convicted of election-related crimes to have control over future elections,” Murphy-Kovalick said.

Rep. Penelope Tsernoglou, (D-East Lansing) testified on House Bill 5550. This bill would amend Michigan Election Law to extend the time period that elections board must determine a recall petition to be factual and of sufficient clarity from 20 days to 40 days.

Under Michigan Election Law, the BSC must review petitions for the recall of U.S. senators, members of Congress, state senators and representatives, elected state officers and county officials. County election commissioners review recall petitions for elected county commissioners, elected district library board members, elected metropolitan district officers and township, city, village or school officials.

Tsernoglou explained that, after receiving a petition to recall an elected official is filed, the BSC or a board of county election commissioners must meet between 10 and 20 days. She said this deadline can be difficult when a member of either board is out of town or dealing with a family emergency.

The 10 to 40 day deadline would provide panels with more flexibility.

“This bill makes a logical change that allows these boards to operate under common sense time frames rather than requiring that the boards and bureau staff must always be on standby,” she said.

Tsernoglou said members of these boards are volunteers who have sometimes had to meet multiple times a month. She said they’ve been seeing more recall petitions lately. Sometimes, there’s a petition filed every day.

DeBoyer questioned the motivation behind the bill. He said he thinks they should provide this same timeline consideration to all parties that have a deadline, including local clerks, county clerks, the people collecting signatures for the petitions and the elected official that is the focus of the recall.

There were several motivations for the bill, Tsernoglou said. They wanted to make it more convenient for the BSC and they wanted to make sure that there’s never a time when a recall petition that shouldn’t be approved is approved without having a meeting.

“There’s really nothing more to this than being cognizant of the fact that this is a volunteer position that we are asking people on both sides of the aisle to participate in to ensure that our elections are functioning the way that they should,” Tsernoglou said. “We are just being respectful of their time and it’s just a common sense change in our current timeline.”

The committee did not vote on the bills.

READ MORE: It’s been a rough 3 years for the Michiganders who tried to overturn the 2020 election.

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license. 

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