Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called for a number of changes to Michigan election law this week, endorsing a plan that would make her decision to mail absentee ballot applications to every registered voter during the pandemic a requirement moving forward.
During a Monday afternoon news briefing, Benson and Assistant Secretary of State Heaster Wheeler outlined a legislative agenda that also included making Election Day a state holiday, banning open carry of guns at within 100 feet of a polling location and giving clerks two weeks ahead of Election Day to process absentee ballots, as well as guaranteeing ballots postmarked by Election Day be counted even if they arrive late.
Benson, a Democrat, said she was concerned by proposals popping up in Michigan and around the country to “restore faith” in elections with policies that would make it harder to vote in-person and absentee. She said the November election was the most successful and secure in history, noting her goal is to “advance the will” of Michigan residents who backed increased access to absentee voting in 2018.
“Today, there are those in the Legislature who would seek to roll back access to the vote,” she said. “Indeed, if these legislators truly want to support elections, their task is simple: Tell the voters the truth.”
Benson’s decision to mail absentee ballot applications to every registered voter ahead of the 2020 presidential election during the COVID-19 pandemic drew ire from Republicans, who argued she didn’t have the authority to do it and contended the move could make elections less secure. The courts ultimately upheld Benson’s action.
In the November 2020 election, 57% of total votes cast were absentee — about 3.2 million of the state’s 5,568,097 ballots — contributing to record-high voter turnout in Michigan.
One big winner in Michigan’s 2020 election cycle: No-reason absentee voting
Other changes proposed by Benson’s office Monday include:
- Consolidating May and August elections into one June election
- Allowing overseas service members and spouses to return their ballots electronically, a reintroduction of legislation that passed both chambers with bipartisan support last session but wasn’t sent to the governor’s desk
- Requiring translated election materials in areas with a significant non-English-speaking community
- Providing funds to ensure voting locations are ADA-compliant and establish curbside voting
- Prohibiting deceptive election practices that could deter or mislead voters
- Mandating training standards for election challengers and election workers
- Requiring a statewide risk-limiting audit of election results prior to state certification