LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan law that requires absentee ballots to be received by the time polls close on Election Day is unconstitutional and will disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters in 2020 if it is not struck down, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.
The suit, filed in the state appeals court, requests a ruling declaring that all absentee ballots be counted as long as they are mailed on or before Election Day and are received within six days of the election. It notes absentee voting is increasingly popular under a 2018 state constitutional amendment that allows people to vote absentee without needing a reason, and points to new voter fears of visiting polling places during the coronavirus pandemic.
The complaint also seeks to compel Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to direct local clerks to take steps such as providing paid postage on return envelopes and mailing absentee ballots on the 40th day before an election.
The suit was filed by the Michigan League of Women Voters and three voters, with assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union and others.
“Given COVID-19, vote by mail will play a critical role in the 2020 elections as voters look to protect their health and participate in democracy,” said Theresa Lee, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project: “Right now, Michigan’s absentee ballot voting process is not ready to meet its biggest test ever when millions attempt to vote by absentee ballot. This lawsuit seeks to resolve those issues.”
A spokesman for Benson declined comment. The Democrat has worked to expand voting and faced criticism from President Donald Trump this week for mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters who were not already on permanent lists, a first.
The suit says Michigan election law since at least 1929 has required absentee ballots to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted. About 1.75% of ballots were not counted in the recent May local elections because they came in too late.
The complaint says inherent variations in mail delivery schedules could result in one person having the ballot counted and another not, even if they send them back on the same day. It also says the deadline especially burdens undecided and late-deciding voters and says at least 11 states count ballots sent by Election Day.
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