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Michigan Giving Military Families Extra Time to Vote Under New Law

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Military and overseas voters will effectively get more time to return absentee ballots under a bill Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Monday.

Senate Bill 259, which goes into effect immediately, gives Michigan voters living overseas and those serving in the military a grace period after polls close. As long as a ballot is postmarked by Election Day and received by the local clerk no more than six days later, the votes will count.

Military spouses and dependents are also covered under the new law. Past policy required military and overseas ballots to be returned by the time polls close on Election Day, the law for all other voters.

But overseas ballots were thus 20 to 70 times more likely to be received late, Michigan Secretary of State legislative policy director Erin Schor told the Senate elections committee last month.

Less than 1% of Michigan absentee ballots were rejected in the November 2020 election, according to a U.S. Election Assistance Commission report. But because of issues like mail delays, 4.6% of Michigan military and overseas ballots were rejected.

“Our military personnel defend our democracy; we must defend their right to participate in our democracy,” Sen. Jeremy Moss, a Southfield Democrat and chair of the elections committee, said in a statement.

SOS Jocelyn Benson, Michigan’s veterans affairs department and clerk associations all support the new law.

Local clerks will forward all received absentee voter ballots from military or overseas voters to county clerks for tabulation at a county canvass board meeting. SB 259 also lays out procedures if a postmark is missing or unclear.

Whitmer’s signing Monday marks the first law to implement Proposal 2, which passed with 60% of the vote last November to expand voting rights and access. Expect additional Prop 2 legislation in “the weeks to come,” Moss said two weeks ago.

Lawmakers are working on an extensive bill package to implement more of the constitutional amendment’s changes, including an early in-person voting period of nine days, single-signup absentee voting and state-funded absentee ballot tracking and drop boxes.

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