Michigan begins ‘new chapter for voting.’ What changes are coming in 2024
- Early voting, absentee ballot measures get a look this week in Legislature, as Proposal 2 is codified
- Changes expected to cost state, local election officials millions
- Some Democrats want Michigan to award its electoral votes to the winner of the national vote for president
Last fall, Michigan voters approved a wide-ranging overhaul of election rules, paving the way for early voting, expanded absentee voting options and a slew of other changes.
Now, the Democratic-majority Legislature is working on implementing the changes into law.
Proposal 2 amended the state constitution to allow nine days of early voting, making Michigan one of two dozen states allowing the practice. The proposal permits private funds for election administration, requires state-funded absentee ballot boxes and continues to allow registered voters to vote without an ID as long as they sign an affidavit.
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“We’re writing a historic new chapter for voting in the state of Michigan,” Senate Elections and Ethics Committee Chair Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, said during the Wednesday committee hearing.
This week, Senate and House lawmakers introduced matching eight-bill packages to help Proposal 2 take effect. Many other election-related measures may be on the horizon, as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer already signed legislation moving up the state’s presidential primary, and lawmakers are weighing awarding Michigan’s presidential electors based on the winner of the national popular vote.
Here’s a look at what’s on tap.
Early voting and more
One of the biggest changes under Proposal 2 requires clerks to provide at least nine days of early voting.
The state already has a voting system where absentee ballots can be cast ahead of time, but the new requirements would allow voters to cast their ballots in person prior to Election Day.
Under the bills, local clerks would be allowed to offer between nine and 29 days of early voting.
That’s unfair and means “there’s not equal access to all communities,” contended Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, a former Secretary of State.
Proposal 2, which was approved by 60 percent of voters, explicitly stated that local clerks could schedule “additional days and hours beyond what is required."
The measure has support from some Republicans, including Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, who called early voting “an important step” for Michigan.
“That this is a more secure and simpler and more efficient way to allow people to have flexibility to vote ahead of Tuesday,” said McBroom, a co-sponsor on the early voting legislation.
Early voting legislation and other bills included in the Proposal 2 implementation package introduced this week remain pending in the Senate Elections and Ethics Committee. Lawmakers began taking testimony on the measures Wednesday.
Implementing Proposal 2 could be expensive. An analysis from the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency estimates that the state will be on the hook for $2.1 million on absentee ballot drop boxes and $4.8 million on postage costs on 6 million absentee ballots.
Local clerks will shoulder additional early in-person voting costs under the proposal.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, on Wednesday said state officials “stand ready to support every clerk and every one of our counties and communities to ensure they have all the tools and resources they need to make these voter mandated policies real.”
Absentee ballot tracking
The Michigan Senate on Wednesday passed legislation requiring the state to set up an electronic tracking system allowing voters who cast absentee ballots to track ballots.
In recent years, Michigan voters — particularly Democrats— have largely embraced absentee voting.
Roughly 40 percent of voters cast an absentee ballot in November 2022 — 1.8 million of over 4.45 million total votes. That’s up markedly since 2018, when voters approved no-reason absentee. In that election, absentee voters made up 27 percent of the 4.25 million voters.
In addition to sending voters updates on the status of their ballot, voters would also get notified if their ballot was denied, a reason for the rejection and instructions for how to fix it.
Some local municipalities now have electronic systems in place, but Senate Bill 339, sponsored by Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, would expand the practice statewide in line with Proposal 2 requirements.
A nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency analysis estimated starting up the system would require $450,000 per year for two budget cycles, eventually dropping to an estimated $140,000 annually plus the costs of one full-time employee once the program is up and running.
The bill passed the Senate 22-16 and now heads to the House for further consideration.
National popular vote
Some lawmakers want to add Michigan to a compact in support of the national popular vote movement. On Tuesday, the House Elections Committee voted to report Bill 4156, sponsored by Rep. Carrie Rheingans, D-Ann Arbor, to the full House.
The U.S. Constitution established the Electoral College to elect presidents but allows states to decide how to award their individual electoral votes, which are distributed based on population and congressional representation.
Michigan currently has 15 electors and, like most states, pledges all of those to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in the state's general election.
The national popular vote movement, backed by the ACLU of Michigan, Voters Not Politicians and the state’s League of Women Voters, would enter Michigan into a compact of states willing to instead award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote in presidential elections.
The compact would only take effect if enough states sign on to reach the 270 delegates needed to win the White House. If the new legislation is approved, Michigan would be the16th state to join the compact, pushing the running total of pledged delegates to more than 200.
Supporters say it would provide for a more representative democracy — but many Republicans are opposed, arguing that it would undermine Michigan’s role as a swing state.
“House Democrats are actively working to diminish Michigan’s influence in presidential elections,” House Republican Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township, said in a statement. “Instead of working across the aisle to help make Michigan a more attractive place to live and work, Democrats are pushing the National Popular Vote Compact that would further undermine Michiganders and let coastal elites take our voices away.”
Already done: Moving up primary
Lawmakers and Whitmer already agreed to one big change for future election cycles: Moving up Michigan’s presidential primary date.
Michigan has support from national Democrats to make the state one of the first five states to host presidential primaries in 2024, a switch long supported by state Democrats, who say an earlier primary would increase the state’s clout.
Michigan Democrats voted earlier this year to make it official in state law, moving the 2024 presidential primaries to Feb. 27, up from March 12.
One potential hiccup: To take effect prior to the 2024 presidential primary, lawmakers would have to adjourn sooner than usual. Republicans didn’t support the change, and did not lend their support to a procedural vote to give the legislation immediate effect.
Republicans have opposed a move because Republican National Committee rules prohibit Michigan from holding primaries before March 1.
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