Michigan Legislature Approves Extra Time to Pre-Process Absentee Ballots and More

UPDATE: On Friday, Oct. 7, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed House Bill 4491 and Senate Bill 311 into law.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, Sept. 28, the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature passed election bills allowing the pre-processing of absentee ballots, regulating drop boxes and providing new voting options to certain overseas voters. 

House Bill 4491 permits election officials in municipalities with populations of at least 10,000 to remove the outer envelope for absentee ballots on the Sunday and Monday before Election Day, allowing officials to pre-process absentee ballots, but not count votes. Under Michigan law, election officials cannot count and tally votes until 7 a.m. on Election Day. The bill, which only extends the pre-processing timeline for clerks by two days, passed both chambers of the Legislature yesterday with broad bipartisan support. Michigan voters approved a ballot measure expanding no-excuse absentee voting in 2018, and the use of such ballots has surged since then. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) has pointed to how delays in reporting results can lead to “misinformation being weaponized.” Previously, Benson has advocated for up to two weeks of processing time for absentee ballots.

Additionally, H.B. 4491 adds new guidelines governing the use of drop boxes, mainly focused on stricter reporting expectations for election officials, and requires clerks to remove deceased voters from the voter rolls more regularly.

On Wednesday, the Legislature also approved Senate Bill 311, which permits a specific class of overseas voters — uniformed service members on active duty — to return completed ballots electronically instead of by mail. This provision is set to go into effect after Jan. 1, 2024. Both bills head to the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) to be signed into law.

Read House Bill 4491 here.

Read Senate Bill 311 here.