Local clerks testify in support of Sen. Ruth Johnson’s bills to help with counting of absentee ballots

LANSING, Mich. — The Senate Elections Committee on Wednesday heard testimony on Sen. Ruth Johnson’s legislation to help local clerks who are expecting a flood of absentee ballots this year.

“The number of people casting their vote by absentee ballot has been steadily increasing,” said Jan Roncelli, clerk of Bloomfield Township. “Proposal 3 is going to continue that trend, and we need some changes to help us count ballots in a timely manner.”

In 2018, Michigan voters approved Proposal 3, which enacted many voting changes, including no-reason absentee voting. Many are concerned that the significant increase expected in absentee ballots will pose a challenge to the timely counting of votes by clerks, particularly in larger municipalities.

“We have 77,000 registered voters in Livonia, and I expect we will have between 30,000 and 40,000 absentee ballots cast this November,” Livonia City Clerk Susan Nash told the committee. “This is up from 16,000 absentee ballots in 2016. That year we did not finish counting until 3 a.m.”

“The state is expecting a dramatic increase in absentee voting this year, so I want to provide our local clerks with some tools to help them do their job efficiently,” said Johnson, R-Holly, who served as Michigan secretary of state from 2011 to 2018 and now chairs the Senate Elections Committee. “I believe we’ve also included the right safeguards to maintain integrity and that’s very important to me.”

Senate Bill 756 would allow clerks in large cities or townships to shift workers in an absentee voter counting board any time after the polls have closed. Under Johnson’s bill, there could be no gaps between shifts, ballots could never be left unattended and at least one election inspector from each major party must always be present.

Senate Bill 757 would allow large city or township clerks to perform certain preprocessing of absentee ballots on the Monday prior to an election. However, clerks would not be allowed to remove absentee ballots from their secrecy envelopes as part of their preprocessing work. They would also be required to secure the absentee ballots in containers approved by the Board of Canvassers for counting on Election Day. The process would also be open to election challengers.

“We really appreciate Senator Johnson’s leadership on this,” said Waterford Township Clerk Kim Markee, who told the committee she expects to receive 20,000 absentee votes in her community for November’s election. “Any help we can get as clerks to do our jobs more efficiently is very welcome.”

Both bills would apply to cities or townships with populations of 40,000 or more and would require the clerks to notify the secretary of state of their intention to use the provision at least 40 days prior to an election. This would be posted on the secretary of state’s website.

Others testifying in support of Johnson’s bills included Troy City Clerk Aileen Dickson, Rochester Hills City Clerk Tina Barton, Ottawa County Clerk Register of Deeds Justin Roebuck, Delta Township Clerk Mary Clark, and Ann Arbor City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry.

Johnson’s bills are also supported by the legislative committees of both the Michigan Association of County Clerks and the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks.

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Editor’s note: The above photograph is available by clicking on the image or visiting https://www.SenatorRuthJohnson.com/photos/.