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Overseas, uniformed service members' absentee ballots get more time under new law

Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio

A new law signed Monday will give Michigan’s overseas and uniformed services voters more time to get their absentee ballots in.

The ballots must be postmarked by election day and arrive within the next six days.

Senator Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) chairs the Senate Elections and Ethics Committee. He said overseas votes are more likely to see delays.

“So, we wanted to ensure that if these ballots are sent and are postmarked before election day and through no fault of the active-duty service member or the overseas voter [it] just doesn’t get to the clerk before it could be tabulated, we wanted a process for them to be tabulated,” Moss said.

The new law puts state policy in line with a constitutional amendment voters approved last year.

Though it passed the Senate with some bipartisan support, some critics are raising concerns the policy could be more lenient than what the amendment requires.

Senator Jonathan Lindsey (R-Allen) said a provision that could allow for a mailed ballot to count, even if the postmark is missing or smudged, goes too far.

“I don’t know many people that if you just say to them, ‘If an absent ballot comes in without a postmark at all, should it be processed?’ Most people, I don’t think that makes sense to them,” Lindsey said.

When asked for a response, Moss said it’s rare for a ballot to come in without a postmark and that local clerks had asked for guidance on the matter.

The disagreement reflects the broader space between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to election issues.

On one side, Moss and supporters of the bill boast military support from groups and departments like the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. On the other, Lindsey, who served in Afghanistan, questions whether the narrative surrounding voter access proposals lines up with what veterans are asking for.

Both sides of the aisle will look to find common ground going forward as the Legislature continues to work on election bills to implement the amendment.

Moss said lawmakers will next focus on getting early voting set up in time for a test run during this fall's local elections.