Johnson’s overseas military voting bill approved by Senate

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Senate on Wednesday approved Sen. Ruth Johnson’s legislation to establish a secure electronic return process for military ballots from active duty members serving overseas.

Michigan clerks must mail or email absentee voter ballots to overseas military members who have applied for an absentee ballot at least 45 days prior to an election. However, under current law, all voters then must print the ballot and return it by mail.

“The idea for this measure came from a bipartisan group of secretaries of state I was a part of in my previous role,” said Johnson, who served as Michigan secretary of state from 2011 to 2018 and now serves as chair of the Senate Elections Committee. “We traveled to the Middle East and met with military leaders and troops at five bases and three ships in three countries. Particularly for service members in a combat area or on a ship at sea, postal service is very inconsistent.

“It’s often difficult for them to receive and return their ballots in time for an election. Fortunately, we discovered there is technology already used by military members to transmit classified documents we can utilize to ensure the secure electronic return of ballots from these brave service men and women.”

Senate Bill 117 would require the state to establish a process to allow for military members serving overseas to vote using an electronic ballot, if they are able and willing to use a U.S. Department of Defense verified electronic signature obtained through a “Common Access Card” (CAC).

A CAC is a type of smart card that serves as the identification of active duty military members. The CAC includes an integrated circuit chip and is required along with a servicemember’s password or PIN to access military networks.

SB 297 would add a definition to the Michigan Election law to define “United States Department of Defense Verified Electronic Signature” as the certificate based digital identification code issued to qualified personnel as the CAC card by the U.S. Department of Defense.

“These bills will protect the security of our elections while also giving our service men and women every opportunity to vote as they defend our country,” said Johnson, R-Holly.

The bills now head to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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