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Michigan House Elections Committee to debate absentee ballot changes

Beatrice Murch

A bill to let Michigan voters request an absentee ballot online is set for a hearing this morning before the state House Elections Committee.

For now, voters can already ask for an absentee ballot online thanks to a 2020 Secretary of State policy. But this legislation would codify that practice into law.

Representative Julie Rogers (D-Kalamazoo) sponsors the bill. She said the online applications have worked well so far.

“I saw this as a win-win for voters to have easy access to an absentee ballot. I just want to be clear that this is an online application. ... It is not voting online,” Rogers said.

The process has received scrutiny in recent elections, with some raising concernsover the possibility of people receiving a ballot illegitimately.

A series of investigations and audits of the state's 2020 and 2022 elections found voter fraud was vanishingly rare and disorganized.

Rogers said the state's been using this system for years without issue.

“The practice really bears it out. And so, we have not seen numbers, any kind of large numbers of people not doing this correctly,” Rogers said.

She said the security measures in her bill mostly reflect what’s currently in place.

There are two types of signatures voters would be able to attach to an absentee ballot. One is “manual digital signature,” meaning a picture of their handwritten signature. The other is a digital signature already on file with the Michigan Department of State.

To use the “stored digital signature,” a voter would have to verify their identity through providing information like a full ID number, birthday, partial social security number, and eye color.

Also on Tuesday’s House of Elections Agenda is a bill to provide a way to track absentee ballots.

That’s something voters approved last year with Proposal 2. But lawmakers have to figure out how to enact it.

The current policy proposal would replace the state’s current tracking system that lets voters look at their registration status and the dates their application was received, ballot was sent out, and got back to a clerk.

The bill would require the Secretary of State to create a new system that could work with a website or mobile app.

Representative Rachelle Smit (R-Shelbyville) has her worries about the bill. She noted Michigan’s already-in-place ballot tracking system.

“A lot of municipalities are already operating that way. … the biggest concern for me is that it would be giving the authority to the Secretary of State,” Smit said.

The hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. today.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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