LANSING, MI – New Michigan House and Senate bills would increase the penalty for fraudulently submitting absentee ballot applications.
Senate bills 977 and 978 would make filling out an application to receive multiple ballots, providing false statements on the application or forging a signature a felony punishment leading to five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $1,000 or both.
House bills 5880 and 5881 address the same issues. Rep. Ann Bollin, R-Brighton, co-sponsored the house bills and defended the Senate ones in a Tuesday, Sep. 22 hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.
Providing false information on an absentee ballot is now a misdemeanor punishable up to 93 days in jail or a $500 fine. By increasing the consequences, attempts at fraudulently voting would decrease and help prevent local clerks from getting overwhelmed, Bollin argued.
“More than ever, there is a lot more being imposed on our local clerks,” she said. “I have a lot of faith in them in that they’ve certainly and thoroughly vetting those signatures (and information), but now with that mass increase of AV applications…this is one step in the direction to enhance the trust factor in integrity in our elections on behalf of the voter.”
Clerks across Michigan plan to mail more than 2.2 million absentee ballots to Michigan voters this week. Ballots can also be dropped off at local ballot boxes, which can be located here, or at clerk’s offices. All voters can track the progress of their absentee ballots by looking up their voter information here.
Michigan clerks begin mailing absentee ballots this week
In the August primary, more than 2.6 million people requested absentee ballots, which a Secretary of State spokesman said is expected to double for November’s general election.
Currently, only the following people can submit an absentee ballot application: the applicant or a member of their immediate family, a person living with the applicant, a mail carrier on duty, a registered elector with certified permission from the applicant to return the application or a clerk or authorized election official.
The Senate legislation, which passed in the committee by an 8-3 vote with two passes, attempts to curb any attempts at multiple vote submissions.
Bollin pointed to Secretary of State policies and court rulings that allow a voter to choose any person they wanted to return their absentee ballot for them, which she called “ballot harvesting.” Her bill and the Senate one would attempt to intervene on that practice.
“The injunctions issued by the Court of Claims on Friday directly contradict many of the protections the Legislature has put in place to protect the integrity of our elections,” she said. “While the Secretary of State should appeal, she appears too focused on her own agenda to defend the laws that were put in place to safeguard our elections.”
The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed on Sep. 16 a lower court’s ruling that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson acted lawfully when she she sent absentee voter ballot applications to all registered voters ahead of primary elections.
In a 2-1 decision, the appellate court found that state law allows Benson the authority to provide unsolicited applications to absentee ballots.
Appeals court rules sending absentee ballot applications to all registered voters was legal
President Donald Trump told voters in North Carolina earlier this month to vote once by absentee ballot and again in-person to make sure the vote counted.
“On your ballot, if you get the unsolicited (absentee) ballot, send it in, and make sure it’s counted, and if it’s not tabulated, you vote,” he said. “If they tabulate it very late, which they shouldn’t be doing, they’ll see that you voted and so it won’t count.”
Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, questioned the Michigan bill’s language for voters that “knowingly submit” false applications or ballots. He wanted clarification that someone could fill out a ballot independently and a friend could “submit” the ballot by mail or dropbox to a local clerk without punishment.
“If someone’s friend does it for them, have they committed a felony,” he asked Bollin.
“He hasn’t. It’s who filled out the application,” she said.
LaGrand then pointed out the bill doesn’t use the term “filled out,” meaning that the bill could unintentionally punish both the fraudulent applicant and the person submitting the application for them. Bollin said the language could be further clarified.
The Senate bill was sent to the House Floor for further approval before a potential signing by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
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Michigan court: SOS can mail absentee ballot requests to registered voters
Michigan Secretary of State sending postcards encouraging people to apply online to vote absentee
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