Written Testimonies on the voting rights bills on May 5, 2021

Promote the Vote submits this written testimony regarding bills being considered by the

Michigan Senate Committee on Elections on May 5, 2021.  Promote the Vote opposes SB 273, 278, and 286.  Promote the Vote is neutral on SB 9, 308, 311 and 334 because critical changes are required to each.


Senate Bill 273 Restricts Voter Access to Convenient, Secure Drop Boxes

Local election officials know where and how to provide convenient and secure drop boxes in their community and provisions in MCL 168.761d already regulate drop boxes.  SB 273 would require local cities and township, with limited budgets, to install expensive, unnecessary and financially burdensome surveillance equipment at drop boxes, depriving some communities of the opportunity to offer a drop box at all.

County boards of canvassers should not be given the authority to approve or refuse to approve drop boxes for cities and townships within the county, as proposed under SB 273.  The members of such boards are appointed by political parties and their duties are purely ministerial.  The task of approving drop boxes should rest with state and local election officials, not partisan boards.


SB 278 Imposes Unnecessary Requirements on Local Election Officials Without Additional Funding

Promote the Vote opposes SB 278 because it creates additional, unnecessary requirements for local election officials, without any data or analysis that such requirements are needed or would improve the voting process.  SB 278 would impose additional requirements on cities and townships without providing additional funding.  Meanwhile, other bills pending in the Senate would cut funding for election administration in cities and townships across Michigan.


Senate Bill 286 Blocks Voters from Utilizing Convenient, Secure Drop Boxes When Needed Most

SB 286 would eliminate the availability of drop boxes at the time when the voters of Michigan utilize and need them the most – Election Day.  SB 286 would eliminate a convenient way for voters to submit their absentee ballots at a time when submitting ballots by mail is no longer an option.  SB 286 would eliminate access to drop boxes at a time when local city and township clerks are busiest – Election Day.

SB 286 will make it more difficult for registered voters across Michigan to submit their complete absentee ballot and be confident their ballot will count.  Currently, Michigan has a single deadline for absentee ballots – ballots must be received by the voter’s city or township clerk by 8 p.m. on Election Day.  SB 286 would create different deadlines depending on how a voter chose to submits their absentee ballot.  Creating multiple, different deadlines will not improve Michigan’s voting system, streamline election administration, provide greater access for voters or improve the integrity of our elections.  SB 286 will create confusion among voters, which will lead to voter disenfranchisement.

Promote the Vote urges the Senate to expand rather than contract the deadline for absentee ballots.  Promote the Vote supports policies that provide for absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted if they arrive at the clerk’s office within six days after the election.  Michigan should adopt this policy to encourage voters to use the mail and to provide a clear and certain deadline by which a voter must put their ballot in the mail.  Mail delivery can vary in ways that voters cannot predict, as Michigan saw in 2020 when the postal service faced staffing and equipment cuts and the impact of the pandemic.


SB 334 Ignores the Needs of Michigan Voters and Election Officials for More PreProcessing Time for Absentee Ballots

One day of pre-processing for absentee ballots is inadequate. This fact was clearly established in 2020 when several communities in Southwest, Southeast and mid-Michigan were still counting ballots the day or days after Election Day.   Despite clear evidence that more time is needed for pre-processing, SB 334 continues to restrict local clerks to just one day.

Michigan should follow the lead of red, blue and purple states across the United States that provide adequate time for election officials to pre-process absentee (or mail) ballots.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of October 2020, many states provided local election officials with critical time prior to Election Day to pre-process absentee (or mail) ballots, including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.[1]   With the majority of Michigan voters choosing to exercise their freedom to vote by absentee ballot, Michigan’s election administration system must adjust to the will of the voters.


Promote the Vote Supports Additional Training on Signature Verification and Utilizing the Administrative Rule Making Process in SB 308

Promote the Vote supports training on signature verification for those officials charged with this task.  (Precinct inspectors are not charged with this task and the bill should be amended to reflect this.)  Promote the Vote also supports the promulgation of rules for objective signature

verification.  However, Promote the Vote opposes the language in SB 308 restricting that rulemaking process from adopting a “presumption regarding the validity of any signature that is to be verified.”  A presumption is simply the starting point for the signature verification process and a presumption can be rebutted or overcome.  A presumption does not determine the outcome of the signature verification process, but it does afford registered voters in Michigan some level of respect in the face of a government official with the power to disenfranchise them.


SB 9 and 311 Deprive Military Family Members and Other Voters Living Overseas of Equal Protection Under the Law

Promote the Vote supports efforts to make it easier for military and overseas voters to make their voice heard at the ballot box. Unfortunately, SBs 9 and 311 exclude non-military voters who are overseas, including the family members of military voters.

[1] National Conference of State Legislatures – https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-andcampaigns/vopp-table-16-when-absentee-mail-ballot-processing-and-counting-can-begin.aspx