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Michigan House OKs sweeping election changes

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(The Center Square) – The Michigan House approved seven bills to change elections.

House Bill 4696, 4697, 4699, and 4702, 4569, Senate Bill 370, 371, and 373, aim to codify what Michigan voters approved via Proposal 2 in 2022.

The bills, if enacted into law, would allow voting preregistration at the age of 16 and make disclosing an election result from an early voting site before election day a Class E felony with a statutory maximum of five years’ imprisonment.

The bills aim to require cities or townships to install at least one absent voter ballot drop box, allow voted absent ballots and absent ballot applications to be placed in a drop box, and require a city or township to have at least one drop box per 15,000 registered electors.

Also, the package would require the Secretary of State to bear the cost of the procurement, distribution, repair, and video monitoring of absent voter ballot drop boxes, require a city or township clerk to use video monitoring for certain absent voter ballot drop boxes during the 75 days before an election and on election day.

The bill would also:

Require each city or township clerk to ensure that the SOS had the information necessary to include on its website the location of each drop box.Require a drop box to be accessible 24 hours each day during the 40 days before election day and be accessible until 8 PM on election day.Require an authorized individual to collect election material from a drop box beginning 35 days before an election.

The bills would have “significant costs” for taxpayers, according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency. Counting installation, video monitoring, staffing cost, and training costs, each drop box will cost taxpayers about $8,100.

The dropbox bill would cost $14.3 million before staffing costs to install 1,800 drop boxes statewide.

The estimated ongoing costs beginning in fiscal year 2023-24 would total $2 million annually and consist of costs for video monitoring and maintenance for 1,800 drop boxes.

Rep. Penelope Tsernoglou, D-East Lansing, said the new rules would increase access to voting.

“When we ensure every voter has the freedom to exercise their right to vote and express their will at the ballot box, our democracy is stronger,” Tsernoglou said in a floor speech.

SB 370 aims to modify the absent voter application and ballot submission process, require that absent voter applications and ballots sent by mail include prepaid envelopes for return provided by the clerk of a city or township, and modify the absent voter application form to specify that an applicant could opt in for an absent voter ballot for all following elections.

The bill would also make the absent voter application form include telephone and email contact information from the applicant and require a clerk to use that information to inform an applicant if the application were rejected for missing a deadline.

SB 371 would specify that a forged signature on an absentee ballot is a Class E felony with a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment.

House Republican Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township, claimed the changes would undermine security.

“House Democrats are continuing their push to chip away at most basic voter security protections and let left-wing organizations create an uneven playing field,” Hall said in a statement. “Whether obliterating signature verification, counting late votes, or letting special interests subsidize extra early voting days for Democrat areas, this foolish legislation damages election integrity while favoring Democrats.”

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