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Opinion | Reforms would ensure free, fair and secure elections

Last year, Michigan election officials dealt with a global pandemic and many changes to our election processes, including the implementation of the voter-approved Proposal 3. Some of these changes, like same-day registration and no-reason absentee voting, were new to our state.


Sen. Ruth Johnson
Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, is a former secretary of state and currently represents Michigan’s 14th District in the Senate, where she chairs the Senate Elections Committee. (Courtesy photo)

As they have for decades, our local and county clerks did a wonderful job meeting those challenges and conducting the election. However, as we reviewed our processes in the months afterward, we found areas where we can improve.

For our democratic system to work, the people of Michigan must have the ability and opportunity to exercise their right to vote and have confidence in the fairness and accuracy of our elections.

Senate Republicans have introduced legislation to reduce the possibility of fraud, safeguard the right for people to vote and preserve the integrity of our democracy.

Senate Bills 273-311 include reforms that will help ensure our elections are free, fair and secure. The 39 bills are the result of listening to many stakeholders, including our hardworking local clerks, and looking at best practices from other states. They cover a wide variety of issues dealing with processes before, during and after an election.

Among the reforms to make it easier to vote is one allowing 16-year-olds to preregister to vote when getting their first driver’s license so that they automatically become a registered voter when they turn 18. Another bill would enable active duty service members serving overseas to securely return their ballots electronically using the same technology the military uses to transmit classified information.

Michigan voters deserve to know that their votes are safe and protected, and our measures would strengthen photo ID requirements – while continuing to provide free state IDs to those who can’t afford them – and ensuring proper management of the state’s Qualified Voter File. A clearer process would be established to remove dead people from the voter rolls and help ensure voters aren’t registered in more than one state.

We’re also working to ensure Election Day runs as smoothly, fairly and efficiently as possible because it’s crucial to our democratic process and to reducing confusion that can lead to mistrust in the system. Some of these efforts include reforms to require better training of poll challengers and ensure election workers understand best practices to prevent out-of-balance precincts.

Our bills will provide greater security for absentee voters by making important improvements to ensure every absentee vote is protected, such as restricting the unsolicited mass mailing of absentee ballot applications, clarifying the signature verification process and requiring photo ID requirements similar to in-person voting. SB 283 would allow larger communities to continue to preprocess – but not count – absentee ballots on the Monday prior to Election Day. It’s an example of a reform that worked well last year to reduce the amount of time needed to count absentee ballots on Election Day, while maintaining integrity by requiring that ballots not be removed from their secrecy sleeves.

SB 273 would also increase requirements for absentee ballot drop boxes. One community in the last election was found using a cardboard box as an absentee ballot drop box. When told that someone could steal it, they duct-taped it to a pole. While eventually this situation was resolved, it illustrates the need for more uniform ballot drop box security standards.

The elections process – from start to finish – must be fully transparent to the people. Our reform proposals would also give county boards of canvassers more time to certify their election results and ensure audits are bipartisan and open to the public.

A complete list of the introduced Senate election reforms, including links to all the bills, is available online at

This is a package of ideas to improve our elections. As we carefully review these bills in the coming months, our goal is to work together to make smart changes where necessary and build on what worked.

It’s about making it easier to vote and harder to cheat – ensuring a more secure process that gives every voter an opportunity to vote and gives them confidence that the outcome represents the voice of the people.

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