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Mich. Legislature poised to ease ballots processing

LANSING (AP) — Michigan lawmakers were poised Thursday to make it easier for clerks to process a surge in absentee ballots in the battleground state’s presidential election by letting them start a day earlier than normal.

Election officials currently cannot remove ballots from outer envelopes until 7 a.m. on Election Day, which this year is Nov. 3. Legislation nearing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would allow them to be opened between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 2, in cities or townships with at least 25,000 residents. Ballots would have to remain in secrecy envelopes until being counted on Nov. 3.

The change is intended to help avoid delays in counting the vote due to so many more people voting absentee. The option was significantly expanded under a 2018 voter-approved constitutional amendment and has become especially popular during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Republican-led House planned to pass the bill Thursday afternoon. The GOP-controlled Senate, which approved an earlier version last week, would then send the final measure to the Democratic governor.

A record 2.4 million people had requested absentee ballots as of Monday, which is quadruple the number of requests during the same period in 2016.

The House amended the legislation to add facets of other bills that had been under consideration. Changes include allowing for shifts at absentee counting boards so that tired workers no longer have to stay so long and requiring clerks to notify a voter whose ballot application or ballot is rejected because the signature on the application or envelope does match what is in the database.

In the August primary, 1,438 absentee ballots were rejected because they had no signature and 787 were tossed because the signature was determined not to match. About 6,400 did not count because they came in too late.

The bill also was revised to include security requirements for newly installed boxes where voters can drop off absentee ballots instead of using the mail.

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