Michigan League of Women Voters sues Secretary of State over absentee voting rights amid controversy

League claims tens of thousands of votes may not be counted if Proposal 3 procedures are not implemented

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson speaks at a news conference on Dec. 12, 2019. (WDIV)

LANSING, Mich.UPDATE -- June 4, 2020: The lawsuit has been accepted by the Michigan Court of Appeals. An expedited briefing and hearing has been ordered by the court. Officials say oral arguments will take place over Zoom on June 18.

The League of Women Voters (LMV) of Michigan filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Secretary of State on May 22 regarding absentee voting rights ahead of upcoming elections.

The LMV argues that voting rights created by Proposal 3 are not being strictly enforced, which could prevent tens of thousands of Michiganders’ votes from being counted in the August or November elections.

Proposal 3, also known as the Voting Policies in State Constitution Initiative, was approved in 2018 and added no-excuse absentee voting to the Michigan Constitution.

READ: A closer look at Michigan’s Proposal 18-3, initiative to expand voter registration, absentee voting

“The Michigan League of Women Voters was a vocal supporter of Proposal 3 in 2018, and as part of our mission to advance democracy in Michigan, we believe voting must be accessible and convenient for every registered voter,” said Christina Schlitt, President of the LMV of Michigan. “The unconstitutional barriers to absentee voting in Michigan need to be removed as they hamper participation in the democratic process and go against the will of the people.”

Michigan’s LMV argues that the Secretary of State is not following through with Proposal 3′s requirement of clerks to count absentee ballots postmarked on or before election day, saying absentee ballots are currently only counted if received by a local clerk by 8 p.m. on election day. The league says that tens of thousands of Michigan votes may not be counted unless the new procedure is implemented.

The lawsuit also argues that the Secretary of State is not strictly enforcing Proposal 3′s rule of providing voters with their absentee ballots 40 days before the date of an election.

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson recently decided to mail absent voter ballot applications to all registered voters in the state for the August and November elections. More voters will now have the option to mail in their ballots rather than voting in person.

MORE: Michigan voters have option of voting by mail for August, November elections

“For us this is about ensuring, now that we have two statewide elections this year, that every Michigan citizen knows that they have a right to vote by mail; they can choose the right," Benson said. "We want to make it safe and easy for them to do so, so they don’t have to feel that they have to leave their home.”

The same applications were mailed to Michigan voters for the May 5 election so they could stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The vote-by-mail system resulted in double the average voter turnout for May local elections compared to previous years -- about 99% of voters opted to mail in their ballots instead of visiting the polls.

While it’s clear that absentee voting is a priority for Michigan’s Secretary of State, the LMV claims that Michigan voters are still facing “unconstitutional barriers” to absentee voting that need to be addressed ahead of the upcoming elections.

Michigan’s LMV is also requesting that the state pays for postage for absentee voters and process ballot applications within a 24-hour time slot.

Benson’s office did not have a comment on the lawsuit at this time.

The lawsuit comes after Secretary Benson received backlash from U.S. President Donald Trump, who falsely accused her of “illegally” sending absentee ballots to all Michigan residents ahead of this year’s elections. Benson is actually sending absentee ballot applications to registered Michigan voters who can choose if they’d like to vote by mail in August and November.

Still, Trump threatened to hold up funds to states that are trying to make it easier to vote amid the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming that the vote-by-mail system leads to voter fraud.

RELATED: President Trump’s rhetoric on voter fraud is misleading

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.