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Opinion: New law protects absentee voting this election

Julie Calley

Between the coronavirus pandemic and a new option that lets any Michigan voter cast an absentee ballot for any reason, our local clerks should expect to see an increase in the number of absentee ballots they have to tabulate on Election Day.

As chair of the Michigan House’s Elections and Ethics Committee, I’ve listened to many people who are worried about whether election workers in their communities will be able to process absentee voter ballots in a timely manner.

That’s why I have been working with local clerks, the secretary of state and my colleagues in the House and Senate on several reforms to help our election workers tackle the increase in absentee ballots while still maintaining the integrity of our elections. I’m pleased to report that one of the measures aimed at improving efficiency was recently signed into law.

Absent voter counting boards gather at a separate location to focus solely on processing absentee ballots, Calley writes.

In future elections, local authorities will now be allowed to team up together to form an absentee voter (AV) counting board.

These panels are not a new concept, but townships and cities who wanted to count their absentee ballots in this manner were previously on their own. Some smaller communities may not have had the necessary workers or equipment, and pooling resources with other nearby communities or their county may allow them to do so.

Communities who don’t utilize AV counting boards typically have election workers at each precinct feed the absentee ballots into the voting machines during lulls or after polls close.

As you can imagine, sometimes this creates confusion or raises concerns about voter fraud when someone from the public walks into an empty polling location and sees election workers feeding ballots into the tabulators. While this is an accepted practice, you can understand how this might give the appearance that election officials are “stuffing the ballot box.”

By contrast, AV counting boards gather at a separate location to focus solely on processing absentee ballots. The process is typically more efficient, and several security procedures are already in place to protect the integrity of the process. AV counting boards must have trained election inspectors representing both major political parties, just as polling places do.

Election challengers must be permitted in to observe the process. Anyone in attendance at an AV counting board is not permitted to leave the counting place until after the polls close at 8 p.m., and they also are required to sign an oath not to reveal vote tallies until after polls close.

Even with the adjustments we’re working on to address the expected increase in absentee ballots this year, it’s possible that results from some races may not come as quickly as people are used to.

It’s important to remember that Election Day is not a race. We must never risk the integrity of our elections to deliver quicker results. I can assure you, election security remains my top priority with any reforms we consider.

State Rep. Julie Calley, R-Portland, chairs the House Elections and Ethics Committee. She represents Barry County and a portion of Ionia County.