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Michigan Senate passes election recount bill

Michigan State Senator Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) speaks on behalf of a package that would tighten the state's laws regarding election recounts.
Colin Jackson
Michigan State Senator Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) speaks on behalf of a package that would tighten the state's laws regarding election recounts.

The Michigan Senate voted Tuesday to tighten the state’s laws around election recounts.

Among the changes would be a new requirement that recount petitions be filed with a good faith belief that the number of challenged votes could change the election outcome.

Package co-sponsor Senator Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) described the changes as “common sense.”

“It’s modernizing our recount law and giving our clerks greater assurance of what to expect, as well as giving petitioners greater ability to actually ensure that the recounts that they’re calling for get to more accurate results,” Chang said.

But critics of the legislation say it would take away a tool for fighting possible fraud.

Senator Ruth Johnson (R-Holly), who also served two terms as Michigan Secretary of State, said the new changes would get in the way of ensuring election results are fair and accurate.

“The bills would take away the rights of an aggrieved candidate if there is fraud or other illegal activity or ballot tampering in an election,” Johnson said during a floor speech Tuesday.

A concern Republican members mentioned was a change in language surrounding when a recount would be appropriate.

Current law allows for recount petitions when a party believes “fraud” or a “mistake” have occurred. The bill would replace those references to fraud and mistakes with ones to "errors."

Senator Jim Runestad said that takes away from election integrity.

“Regardless whether you call it a fraud or an error, there is no rationale that justifies barring citizens from requesting a recount when they believe that fraud has occurred,” Runestad said.

But supporters argue canvassing boards, which oversee recounts at the state and local level, don’t investigate fraud to begin with.

Chang said there are other options for recourse if fraud is suspected.

“There are plenty of laws on the books already about election fraud. If there is fraud, we have law enforcement who will investigate it,” she said.

The legislation would also double per-precinct fees that petitioners must pay for a recount. That deposit would be refunded if the petitioner proves there was enough error in an original count to change the election result.

Another part of the package would replace parts of current statute that prevent ballots from being recounted in certain cases — like if a seal on a ballot container is broken. The legislation would instead provide a new path for previously excluded ballots to still be counted if they meet other criteria.

The bills now head to the Michigan House of Representatives.

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