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Opinion: An election year like no other spotlighted need for reforms

Jeremy Moss

In a normal election year, most people pay little attention to what happens after they cast their ballot and the process that leads to an election result — but this has been no normal election year. Many more Michigan residents are now fluent on the once-mundane proceedings of absentee ballot counting centers, the county and state boards of canvassers, and the Electoral College.

Citizens in a healthy democracy should welcome this spotlight on our election this year and its record 5.5 million ballots, of which almost 3.5 million were cast absentee — and accept the outcome of counting those ballots.

We must permit clerks to start processing absentee ballots earlier, just as other states do, Moss writes.

Throughout this process — guided masterfully by our secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson — the canvassing and certification found no credible claims of malfeasance. Both the Michigan Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court dismissed attempts to throw out Michigan votes falsely deemed fraudulent, and legislative inquiries at the State Capitol have not uncovered anything nefarious.

This increased scrutiny of how we count our votes should also propel lawmakers to examine further ways to strengthen the efficiency in reporting our election results, and I’m ready to push these reforms forward.

First and foremost, we need to boost the resources provided to Michigan’s dedicated election administrators. One-time CARES Act funding and nonprofit groups provided for pre-paid postage for ballots, more high-speed ballot scanners, other election equipment and additional election workers. We must make sure municipalities can maintain these services to address the usual challenges we see every election — including out-of-balance precincts, which received heightened attention this year.

The clerical mistakes in out-of-balance precincts — small discrepancies between the number of valid ballots tabulated and the paperwork filled out by an election worker — should not call the integrity of the election into question. That’s why lawmakers in both parties unanimously passed my bill in 2018 to require these human errors simply be reported to the secretary of state for resolution. Detroit made vast improvements in balancing their precincts from August to November, and increased funding for improved training will continue to reduce these discrepancies.

Next, we must permit clerks to start processing absentee ballots earlier, just as other states do. Our 2020 system here allowed for ballot pre-processing to begin only in our largest communities and only the day before Election Day. We should look instead to places like Florida, which was able to start counting absentee ballots 22 days before the election, thereby expediting the ballot reporting and avoiding election night chaos.

More time would also allow voters to address errors that lead to ballots being rejected. There were roughly 15,300 absentee ballots rejected in Michigan this year, not for their content but for innocent mistakes such as a missed signature. In Georgia, voters are allowed to fix and resubmit their rejected absentee ballots until the Friday after Election Day. We should require clerks here to also give Michigan voters a chance to resolve rejected ballots and instill confidence that each vote will be counted.

Every vote in Michigan should be cherished, not challenged, and the process should leave no questions about the election result. So, as we embark into the new year and a new session of the Michigan Legislature, I hope we can put aside partisan politics and work together to enact laws that build upon the proven safety and security of our free and fair election system.

Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, represents Michigan's 11th District in the state Senate.