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Benson-GOP deadlock stalls absentee ballot rules

Three-quarter-view head-and-shoulders candid portrait of Benson, who's wearing a blue jacket
Paul Sancya/AP
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson talks about voting and the upcoming elections in Detroit Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The result could be a lack of guidance for clerks and election boards during elections this year.

Republicans and Democrats on a joint House and Senate legislative committee are deadlocked on absentee ballot rules. The result is those rules will almost certainly not be ready for the upcoming 2022 elections.

And that means clerks and election boards could be left without guidance on specific standards to determine who should be allowed to vote.

The differences center on standards for matching signatures in clerks’ files with signatures on mailed-in ballots and the ability to request a ballot online using an electronic signature.

Republicans say Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s plans would open the door to fraud and error.

And Republican Senator Jon Bumstead says Benson has refused to negotiate on those standards. That’s after her office refused to make GOP-backed alterations to the proposed rules.

“The committee did invite the Department of State to meet and discuss requested changes,” said Bumstead. “However, the department ignored that invitation.”

Republicans used a procedural process to pause further action on the rules until after the November elections.

On a party-line vote, the legislative Joint Committee on Administrative Rules chose to send bills that encompass Benson’s rules to the House and the Senate. The bills will be sponsored by Republican legislators, but they could easily be amended.

And that’s why Democrats, including Representative Julie Brixie, say it’s Republicans who aren’t acting in good faith.

“This appears to be something that’s going to be a bait-and-switch,” she told the Michigan Public Radio Network.

Brixie says confusion works to the benefit of Republicans and accuses of GOP lawmakers of gaming the process.

“The Republicans are interested in suppressing voter turnout and disqualifying as many votes as possible from Democratic areas,” she said.