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State Senate should be proactive in ballot legislation

It has been said that desperate times call for desperate measures. Well, 2020 certainly qualifies, and state lawmakers are looking to address absentee ballot processing before it could become a major issue.

A bill that would allow Michigan clerks to start processing absentee ballots before Election Day is not dead, and the August primary legitimized concerns that some officials will not be able to quickly handle a surge of mailed-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic, a legislative leader said.

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican, said the Senate continues to “finesse” the bipartisan proposal that has been on hold in the chamber since May. It is sponsored by Republican Sen. Ruth Johnson, a former secretary of state. Similar legislation, backed by Democrats, is pending in the House, according to an Associated Press story.

“It wouldn’t surprise me that we get enough support to do something before the general election and then evaluate it afterward,” Shirkey, who previously opposed the measure, told The Associated Press last week. Allowing clerks to begin processing, but not counting, ballots the day before the election would not necessarily be a permanent change, he said.

Temporarily revising the law, Shirkey said, would enable the state to take “controlled steps, acknowledging that things have changed but not putting the integrity of the election in jeopardy.” He said he could not predict if or when the Senate would act but said it is “being very seriously considered.”

A record 2.5 million votes were cast in the primary, as people took advantage of no-excuse absentee voting during the pandemic. About 1.6 million ballots cast were absentee — returned by mail, at drop boxes or inside clerks’ offices — topping the record of 1.3 million from November 2016.

Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, local clerks and voting rights groups have urged the Republican-led Legislature to let election workers start processing absentee ballots the day before Election Day. Benson has warned that the results of close races in November likely will not be known until three days later — maybe longer — without such legislation.

Michigan allows any voter to request a ballot by mail, although voters also can cast their ballots the traditional way. If you plan to vote from home, you need to fill out a mail ballot application, which should be done as far in advance of the election as possible. The deadline to request a ballot by mail is Oct. 30, and requests must be received by 5 p.m. that day.

With many voters, especially those in the high-risk category, not wanting to risk their health by standing in lines to vote, it’s safe to assume mail-in ballots are going to surge this year.

We are glad to see state leaders taking action to address this mail-in ballot issue now rather than later.

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