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House OKs bills requiring poll challenger training, expanding polling locations

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan House approved legislation Tuesday that would require all election challengers to receive training within three months of any general, primary or special election they serve in.

The effort, which passed 101-3, seeks to address confusion regarding who can serve as an election challenger, what can be challenged and how inspectors should address challenges. It would require the Secretary of State's office to establish a training program for county clerks, political parties and other groups recruiting challengers; those groups would then need to train their challengers between 45 and 100 days before the election. 

The bill, which was vetoed in October because of a lack of funding, will now be tied to funding for one full-time employee in the Secretary of State's office to build the training program and tracking system, said Rep. Ann Bollin, R-Brighton Township. 

Bollin, a former clerk and chairwoman for the House Elections Committee, said she hopes to have the legislation in place before the August or November election but the timing depends on how quickly the Senate signs off on the bill and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's ultimate signing decision.

"What I saw in my first election in 2020 as an observer versus a clerk is that there are a lot of best practices that need to be put into statute," Bollin said. "I was really surprised at the lack of universal continuity and the understanding of what the law is for the process for the challenger and also for inspectors."

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office on Tuesday said it supported the plan. 

"The Department of State agrees that election challengers should be well trained before participating in our elections, and we look forward to continued conversations about attaching funding to this proposal to make such training possible," said Tracy Wimmer, a spokeswoman for Benson's office.

The legislation approved Tuesday also would require the Secretary of State's office to create and maintain a registry to track the entities providing challenger training. The database, which would be available to county clerks, would need to include the names of the individuals who attended the training. 

Parties or organization that fail to attend the training or train their own challengers would face a state civil infraction carrying a fine of up to $2,500. 

The House also OKed legislation in a 95-9 vote allowing senior housing facilities, apartment buildings, banquet facilities or a recreation clubhouse to be used as polling locations so long as the owner isn't a sponsor to a political or independent committee. 

Whitmer vetoed the bills at the Detroit NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner arguing they, along with two others, would "weaken voting rights" and suppress votes in Michigan. 

Two other bills vetoed that night would have limited access to the qualified voter file and prohibited the electronic poll book at precincts or absentee voter counting boards from being connected to the internet until all results have been tabulated.