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Recount legislation nears governor

Your city or township clerk's office might have ballot drop boxes outside the office.
Lester Graham
/
Michigan Radio
Your city or township clerk's office might have ballot drop boxes outside the office.

Michigan’s laws around election recounts could be in for some big changes under legislation passed Thursday in the Michigan House of Representatives.

Overall, the package aims to clean up the post-election process and prevent frivolous recount attempts.

It would only allow candidates to file for a recount if they believe in good faith that an error in the canvass or returns of the votes kept them from winning. Current state law also gives that opportunity if the candidate believes “fraud or mistake” cost them the election.

Candidates would also have to certify that the number of challenged votes would be enough to sway the outcome of an election for a petition for a recount to go through.

Representative Penelope Tsernoglou (D-East Lansing) said the legislation also changes how much candidates would have to pay for a recount.

“This fee structure includes per-precinct fees which charge less for precincts where the results are closer and more for precincts where the margin is so large that it is unlikely a recount could change the outcome,” Tsernoglou said.

Another part of the package deals with which ballots are eligible to be recounted.

Under the current system, if the number of ballots a precinct has in its possession is out of balance with records, every ballot in that precinct becomes ineligible to be recounted. The legislation would provide a way to still count those ballots should there be a good reason through a sworn affidavit for why things are off.

Tsernoglou said that can often happen due to simple human error, or behavior that's not typical, but still does not amount to fraud.

“For example, if a voter comes in and gets a ballot and has to leave because of an emergency or simply decides to walk out with their ballot, which happens more than we would think, then the entire precinct is out of balance,” Tsernoglou said.

The package passed along party lines, with Republicans sharing concerns that it could weaken security measures in the state’s election system and give candidates fewer opportunities for recourse.

During a floor speech Thursday, Representative Rachelle Smit (R-Martin) implied the bills would reduce state election boards to rubber stamps on election results.

“It’s not a crime, or at least it shouldn’t be, to practice skepticism. We should encourage voters and candidates to utilize the checks and balances put into place to promote trust in our system,” Smit said.

Current law gives canvassing boards at the state and local level some power to investigate claims of fraud, wrongdoing or other voting-law violations.

The legislation would take that away and instead require them to refer any concerns to prosecutors and law enforcement.

Representative Jay DeBoyer (R-Clay Twp) said that would erode trust in the state’s elections system.

“An investigation that the board of canvassers can do is not an investigation into a citizen or a bad actor in the general public. It’s an investigation into the people within the operations of an election,” DeBoyer said.

Supporters of the package say investigations should be left up to law enforcement and prosecutors in the first place.

One bill in the package is now cleared for the governor’s signature. The other must return to the Senate for that chamber to agree to some changes made in the House.

Colin Jackson is a reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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