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House committee to take up more election bills

A bill up for a hearing Tuesday before a state House committee would forbid the Secretary of State from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters.

It appears fights over Michigan’s election rules will continue this week in the Legislature. The House Elections and Ethics Committee has on its Tuesday agenda a package of three bills, one of which would ban mailing unsolicited absentee voter applications.

This is after Republicans objected to a mass mailing of absentee ballot applications – although not the ballots themselves -- from Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office to voters. Benson said mailing the applications fit with her responsibilities to make voting easy and accessible.

Benson opposes the bill. Her spokesperson Tracy Wimmer released this statement Monday:

Secretary Benson is committed to working with the Legislature on good, data-driven, common sense bipartisan election policies that will ensure our elections are more secure, our voters are more engaged, and our clerks are supported. This legislation does none of that. Instead, it buys into a lie, will do nothing to make our elections more secure, and will do a great deal of harm to the Secretary’s and clerks’ abilities to inform and educate voters about how to safely exercise their right to vote absentee. If they were willing to work with Secretary Benson and the clerk community, lawmakers could do the work they were elected to do and improve our elections. Instead they are chasing lies and ignoring the real needs of our voters and the clerks who serve them. They should be ashamed.

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled last year that Benson acted within her authority with a mass mailing to voters reminding them of their right to vote absentee. It also included an application for voters to apply, but not an actual ballot.

Representative Ann Bollin (R-Brighton), who chairs the elections committee, did not respond to an interview request.

House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township) says there’s been no movement toward common ground.

“If there’s going to be bipartisan support, there needs to be bipartisan work to create these bills and packages,” she said, “and we’re simply not seeing that.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer vetoed other GOP-sponsored election bills last week. She said they would fail to advance free and fair elections.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.