Legal Action Expected After Clerks Miss Military, Overseas Ballot Mailing Deadlines
Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has announced that a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit is imminent after local city and township clerks in 70 communities missed state and federal deadlines for providing absentee ballots to military and overseas voters for the August primary election.
Ballots must be provided to military and overseas voters who request them at least 45 days before an election, either by traditional mail or by email. Another 215 clerks did not respond to repeated requests from the Michigan Department of State for a status on their efforts to provide the ballots.
“Our clerks do an excellent job on the front lines of elections and the vast majority of them did comply with the deadline,” Johnson said. “It is critical that our overseas voters and military members – who put their lives on the line every day to protect our freedom – get a right to participate in the very system they are protecting.”
If legal action is taken, clerks who missed the 45-day deadline could be required to extend the time for receiving and counting the ballots only for affected voters in their communities.
Michigan is unique in that more than 1,500 local clerks are responsible for conducting elections, including absentee ballot duties. The Michigan Department of State provides oversight, support and direction to clerks. The Bureau of Elections sent at least three reminders to local clerks in advance of the 45-day deadline to issue the absentee ballots to military and overseas voters. In addition, the Bureau maintains an elections calendar to assist local clerks.
Michigan also has made other proactive efforts to increase access to the ballot box for military and overseas voters, such as:
Expansion of a federal write-in absentee ballot to include state and local candidates and ballot questions for overseas military and their families. Voters who use the ballot return it by mail to the appropriate clerk.
An electronic ballot system that allows clerks to easily email ballots to overseas and military voters. This move can save as much as two weeks in arrival and response times.
An online ballot tracker – at www.michigan.gov/vote – that allows voters to check on their absentee ballot status.
“My priority has always been to do everything I can to ensure that our military and overseas voters have their voices heard on Election Day,” said Johnson, who founded OPERATION: Our Troops Count when she was Oakland County clerk to push for laws that would allow military ballots to be emailed.
For now, Johnson has instructed clerks in affected communities to immediately contact military and overseas voters and to offer a new ballot if one was not received.
Come August, Johnson will call on the Legislature to beef up administrative remedies so that court action is not needed to ensure military and overseas voters get their ballots in time.
“We must ensure everyone who wants the opportunity to vote can do so, whether here or abroad,” Johnson said. “They have a right to have their vote count, their voice heard.”