State of Democracy Spotlight Series: Michigan

New Absentee Ballot Policies May Still Delay Election Results (and Lead to Election Challenges) this November

[Updated 10/10/22: As of Friday, Oct. 8, a bill signed into law by Gov. Whitmer provides a two-day window before the election for officials to open return envelopes with mail-in ballots. This preprocessing allows officials to confirm that ballot numbers match the envelopes containing them; the ballots themselves, however, cannot be counted or removed from their secrecy sleeve.]

Michigan is one of 41 states that allows preprocessing of absentee ballots to begin before Election Day.

  1. Seven days of preprocessing time
  2. Permission for election officials to start scanning and tabulating ballots
  3. Adequate time for voters to correct, or “cure”, their ballots]

Republican Leaders in Michigan Urged Poll Watchers to Violate Rules

Adding to potential chaos surrounding a delayed count of mail-in ballots, some Republican leaders in Michigan have urged poll watchers to intimidate voters. These actions will further put Michigan at the center of likely post-election challenges. Poll watchers will be asked to follow the law but the enforcement of election laws against Republican poll watchers can in and of itself be leveraged to falsely claim election bias.

Citizen Initiatives Have Been Used to Strengthen Michigan’s Democracy in the Past — And May Again this Year

Despite the likely issues with vote counting delays and partisan poll watcher interference, Michigan’s democracy overall is strong — in part due to citizen initiatives.

  1. Implement nine days of in-person early voting,
  2. Require pre-paid postage for absentee ballots,
  3. Allow private charity funding of election administration
  4. Improve requirements for ballot drop boxes,
  5. Enact safeguards to ensure that audits are conducted legitimately and that election results are certified based only on official counts.

Michigan Has a Relatively Strong Democracy Tally

In part thanks to the citizen initiatives described above, Michigan ranks 10th in the nation in our Democracy Tally for its voting and election policies, making it a strong democracy overall. The Democracy Maps track 45 laws and policies for each state, which inform this tally.

▸▸ Voter Registration

Michigan rates high in the policy area of Voter Registration, with all of the policies MAP tracks that positively impact voter registration.

▸▸ Representation and Participation

Michigan ranks high in the category of voter representation and participation with important policies in place, including:

▸▸ Voting by Mail

Michigan also ranks highly in terms of mail voting policies, as the state allows no-excuse absentee voting.

  • The state also has positive laws related to ballot drop boxes and permanent absentee voting.
  • Michigan could improve in this area by adopting all-mail elections, where every eligible voter is proactively sent a mail ballot.

▸▸ Election Independence and Integrity

Michigan ranks lower in the area of Independence & Integrity.

  • This shortfall is due to a lack of policies like a state-level voting rights act and a lack of laws to protect election officials from threats and harassment.
  • Finally, as mentioned above, the lack of early processing of mail-in ballots presents a serious flaw in Michigan’s democratic system — a flaw that can be exploited by election deniers across the nation.

Michigan will certainly be a state to watch in November. While the state has a relatively strong democracy and accessible voting policies, it almost certainly will see a delay of election results and increased danger posed by partisan poll workers. This could lead to Michigan being a center of conspiracy theories and election denialism in a repeat of the 2020 election. Lawmakers still have time to act to protect our democracy and allow pre-processing of absentee ballots in order to close the gap that misinformation and lies can fill.

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Democracy Maps

Democracy Maps

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Democracy Maps tracks more than 40 laws and policies on elections and voting. Project of Movement Advancement Project, an independent, nonprofit think tank.