Michigan House votes to move primary election from August to June

Craig Mauger Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan House approved proposals Tuesday that would shift the statewide primary election from August to June and would do away with local elections in May.

The votes came as lawmakers continue to scrutinize election administration in the battleground state.

Supporters of the four bills contend that the changes would give officials more time to prepare for the November election by shifting the primary earlier, and would save money by ending the May election.

Voters casting their ballot at Frederick Douglass Academy In Detroit, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

"These are very important bills that could have tremendous impact on public perception, especially as it relates to accuracy with our ability to program our elections," Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons told lawmakers last month.

"Just the additional time that would be afforded to election administrators would be completely invaluable."

Under the proposals, which still have to go before the state Senate and be signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the changes wouldn't take effect until 2023.

The main bill in the package passed in a 63-46 vote with Republicans mostly in support, and Democrats mostly in opposition. Sixteen House Democrats crossed over to vote with majority Republicans in favor of the bill.

The legislation has been opposed by the Michigan Association of School Boards and other school groups, which have voiced concerns that it would remove options for school districts hoping to schedule a millage election around better debt millage rates.

School districts tend to put bond issues before voters when the bond markets are in the best position, and two elections instead of three "would restrict those options," according to an analysis by the House Fiscal Agency.

However, supporters of the bills have emphasized that the May elections see low voter turnout and not having them would save cities and townships money.

Senate President Pro Tem Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, have previously voiced support for the general idea of moving the primary election to June.

"Consolidating the May and August elections into one June election will save taxpayer dollars and meet a longtime request of clerks to be allowed to operate more efficiently," Benson said earlier this year.

The House passed three other election-related bills Tuesday.

One would generally require the Bureau of Elections to canvass initiative petition signatures within 90 days of their filing with the state. It passed 60-49.

Another would require county clerks to update the qualified voter list to cancel the registration of deceased electors each month. It passed 109-0.

A third would expand the locations that may be used as polling places in Michigan to include privately owned clubhouses or conference centers located within an apartment complex. It passed 106-3.

Lawmakers have been heavily examining the state's voting policies since the 2020 presidential election. Former President Donald Trump, who lost to Democrat Joe Biden, raised unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud in Michigan and elsewhere.