Judge: Michigan must count absentee ballots that arrive late

A judge has cleared the way for more absentee ballots to be counted in Michigan

The decision is significant in a state that is anticipating waves of absentee ballots this fall; about 2.3 million have already been requested. For absentee ballots to be counted, Michigan law requires them to be received by the time polls close on Election Day.

“The evidence in this case stands uncontroverted and establishes that the mail system is currently fraught with delays and uncertainty in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Stephens said.

An absentee ballot can be counted if postmarked by Nov. 2 and received within 14 days after the election, said Stephens, who noted that it can take two weeks to certify Michigan election results anyway.

The state doesn’t plan to appeal Stephens’ decision or a ruling from a different judge about driving voters to polling places, said Ryan Jarvi, a spokesman for Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat.

“With the November election quickly approaching, voters and local clerks need certainty — and these decisions provide that,” Jarvi said. “Therefore, we do not intend to appeal but rather will use this time to educate and inform voters of their rights.”

The state’s top election official, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, also a Democrat, had been urging the Republican-controlled Legislature to allow the counting of absentee ballots that arrive two days after the election.

Separately, a federal judge on Thursday blocked Michigan’s longstanding ban on transporting voters to the polls.

It’s a misdemeanor to hire drivers to take voters to polling places unless they’re unable to walk. Michigan was the only state where ride-hailing company Uber did not offer discounted rides to the polls on Election Day in November 2018, according to the lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis suspended enforcement of the law. A form of the ban has been on the books since 1895.

“Congress implemented a statutory scheme and gave citizens the right to spend money on transporting voters to the polls,” Davis said.

The ban had been challenged by groups including Priorities USA, a liberal super PAC that has said it plans to spend millions mobilizing and turning out voters in the battleground state.


White reported from Detroit.

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Absentee voting more effective at boosting voting rates than universal mail-in ballots

This Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020 photo shows a completed Alaska Primary absentee ballot before it was put inside a mailbox in Anchorage, Alaska. The Alaska Division of Elections said it has mailed more than 54,000 absentee ballots for the Aug. 18 primary. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

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UPDATED 6:50 AM PT – Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Some have argued that universal mail-in ballots and absentee ballots are the same thing, while others have said there are important differences between the two. So, what are these differences?

Firstly, due to health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, many are afraid of large gatherings of people at the polls. This has furthered calls for universal mail-in ballots.

“The fear of getting sick threatens some not to go to the polls, people should not have to choose between voting and preserving their good health,” stated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

What about the mechanism already in place, which allows people to vote from the safety of their homes? It’s known as the absentee ballot.

Absentee ballots are sent to registered voters when they request them, so long as voters have a qualified excuse for not being able to visit their counties polling stations.

Likewise, officials can reject absentee request forms if they are improperly filled out or if they contain false information. However, 29 states have “no excuse” absentee ballots, which don’t require any specific reason for an absentee request.

In the case of universal mail-in voting, the proposition looks to send a mail-in ballot to every registered voter in each state.

How could this debate effect the outcome of this year’s election? According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the 2016 election saw only 6 percent of the voting age population actually cast votes in November. This means nearly 74 million people who could have voted, did not.

As the country looks to increase voter participation amid COVID-19, perhaps some form of a mail-in voting system would increase voter turnout.

However, the five states which already employ the universal mail-in system could add some clarity to this idea. These states include Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Utah and Hawaii.

In 2016, Colorado and Oregon saw a voter participation rate above the national average. Colorado was at 72 percent and Oregon was at 68 percent. Washington was close to the national average at 66 percent participation and Utah calculated 58 percent.

Meanwhile, with the lowest participation rate in the country, Hawaii registered only a 43 percent participation rate among eligible voters.

One area of the voting pool which saw a higher rate of voter participation nationwide was the absentee vote.

“Absentee ballots are great because absentee ballots you have to go through a process to get them and it’s actually a great thing,” said President Trump. “Absentee ballots, I’m gonna be voting absentee.”

According to the Election Assistance Commission, requested and verified absentee ballots were turned in at a rate of nearly 80 percent, which is 17 percent higher than the nation’s overall voter participation rate.

As we look to offset the fear associated with conducting an election during a pandemic, absentee voting looks to be very different and noticeably more effective at increasing voter participation than a possible universal mail-in ballot system.

RELATED: Trump campaign sues 2 Iowa counties over pre-filled mail-in ballots

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