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Senate OKs Johnson bill to ensure challenger access

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Senate on Thursday approved Sen. Ruth Johnson’s legislation to ensure that an adequate number of challengers are allowed to be present at absentee voter counting boards.

“For decades, people in Michigan have served an important role ensuring the integrity of our elections as citizen observers,” said Johnson, who served as Michigan secretary of state from 2011 to 2018. “This bill would remove any confusion regarding challengers, improve the public’s confidence in the process, and apply the law equally to absentee ballot counting boards.”

Johnson’s bill addresses two separate issues. First, it allows challengers to work in shifts when counting runs past 8 p.m. on Election Day in an absentee counting board. This is similar to what is already allowed for those serving as election workers in an absentee counting board. Second, the bill would ensure adequate access for challengers in combined absentee counting boards where absentee ballots from multiple communities are being counted.

“We heard reports of challengers leaving absentee counting boards and not being allowed to reenter or to have a new challenger take their place,” Johnson said. “That needs to be fixed.

“And while some communities were able to utilize the combined absentee counting boards to make their process more efficient, in some cases rules restricted challengers to one per building where ballots from multiple municipalities were being counted. That is just not adequate access to observe the process.”

Senate Bill 279 would clarify that there should be two challengers allowed from a party or group for every 2,999 voters at consolidated counting boards where multiple communities have entered into an agreement to count ballots together. This is already allowed at a traditional absentee voter counting board. For every additional 2,999 voters, an additional challenger would be allowed.

No more than one challenger per party would be allowed for every three election inspectors appointed to the counting board, and if the board continues to work after the polls close on election day, challengers would be able to be replaced as long as the replacements meet the normal challenger requirements.

The Senate also passed House Bill 4127 and 4128 to ensure the state’s Qualified Voter File (QVF) is consistently and continuously updated with current voter information and require that inactive/deceased voters be removed per state and federal law.

The bills would require the secretary of state to verify the registrations of individuals with uncertain or indeterminable dates of birth in the QVF and individuals in the QVF who have not voted in over 20 years.

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