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Senate panel OKs bills to punish absentee ballot fraud

LANSING, Mich. — Senate Elections Committee Chair Ruth Johnson on Wednesday supported the panel’s approval of legislation to crack down on fraud regarding absentee ballots and their applications.

“Voter fraud is an attack on our democracy, and we must do everything we can to discourage it and punish those who commit this crime,” said Johnson, who served as Michigan secretary of state from 2011 to 2018. “Since completing absentee voter applications and ballots largely happens at home, it’s much more difficult to police. With the increased use of absentee voting comes the increased temptation to cheat by filling out applications or ballots intended for someone else.

“These bills would strengthen our laws that punish those engaged in election fraud as part of an ongoing effort to protect the integrity of our elections.”

House Bill 4132 would make it a felony for anyone to fill out and submit an absentee voter ballot application using someone else’s name, outside of approved exceptions. It would also make it a felony to knowingly request multiple absentee voter ballots for the same election and make it a felony to provide false information or forge a signature on an absentee ballot application.

HB 4133 would prescribe penalties of up to a $1,000 fine and up to five years in prison for the felonies outlined in HB 4132.

Johnson said the measures are similar to Senate Bill 977 of 2020, which would have made it a felony for someone to knowingly submit another person’s name or personal identity information on an absent voter ballot application or attempt to obtain multiple ballots. SB 977 was passed in September 2020 but vetoed by Gov. Whitmer in October 2020.

“Before the 2020 election, we passed legislation — in a bipartisan manner — to protect absentee voting from fraud, but the governor vetoed it,” Johnson said. “These House bills would give her a second chance to do the right thing.”

HBs 4132-33 now head to the full Senate for consideration.

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