A Michigan Court of Appeals panel on Wednesday ruled that it was legal for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to send out unsolicited absentee voter ballot applications to the state’s 7.7 million registered voters.
In a 2-1 decision, the panel upheld a Court of Claims opinion in August in Davis v. Secretary of State.
“As chief elections officer, with constitutional authority to ‘perform duties prescribed by law,’ the Secretary of State had the inherent authority to take measures to ensure that voters were able to avail themselves of the constitutional rights established by Proposal 3 regarding absentee voting,” Judges James Robert Redford and Jonathan Tukel wrote in the majority opinion.
Judge Patrick Meter dissented.
“I am pleased that the court affirmed what we have known all along, that as the state’s chief election officer I have the authority and responsibility to ensure citizens know how to execute their right to vote,” Benson said.
On Wednesday, Benson and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer focused in a press conference in Lansing on building Michiganders’ trust in the state’s election process, especially in absentee ballots, ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.
“This year we have emerged as a leader in facilitating safe elections during this pandemic,” Whitmer said. “By ensuring all Michiganders know how to vote safely in this November election is no doubt a herculean undertaking, and it’s going to require that leaders at all levels of government, our community leaders and commissioners and everyday Michiganders get out and spread the word.”
Benson stated that all Michigan has seen record voter turnout, especially in voters who choose to mail in their ballots, but said that the federal government and state legislature need to do more to ensure that the general election goes smoothly.
More than 2.2 million absentee ballot requests have been submitted as of Tuesday, according to the Secretary of State. Benson said there is expected to be more than 5 million voters this November.
“Already we’ve had three successful elections this year which saw record turnout, record numbers of citizens voting by mail, and little to no crowding on Election Day. We are on track to replicate this success in November,” said Benson. “Our clerks are doing their part, working tirelessly as they have all year to juggle unprecedented challenges while embracing record turnout. But they and voters need support from the federal government and our state Legislature.”
She reiterated that the bill is a “step in the right direction,” but is not enough to meet the demands of the upcoming election.
Benson noted that a number of other states, including Florida, Ohio, Kentucky and North Carolina, all allow for more processing time than Michigan, even if the Senate’s bill was to pass.
In order to avoid possible U.S. Postal Service delays, Whitmer encouraged everyone who plans to vote from home to vote early, as soon as Sept. 24, either through their local clerk’s office or an absentee ballot.
“We’re entering the final stretch of what may be one of the most contentious election cycles that any of us have ever seen,” Benson said. “We can and we will ensure the voices of all of our citizens are heard and every vote is counted.”