Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, broke state law when she unilaterally changed election rules concerning absentee balloting in the 2020 election.
Michigan Court of Claims Chief Judge Christopher Murray made the ruling in response to one of the Republican lawsuits alleging that her actions violated the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act. Benson had instructed local election clerks a month before the Nov. 3 election to start with a “presumption” that all signatures on absentee ballots were valid and only reject those that had “multiple significant and obvious” inconsistencies.
The court concluded,
“…nowhere in this state’s election law has the Legislature indicated that signatures are to be presumed valid, nor did the Legislature require that signatures are to be accepted so long as there are any redeeming qualities in the application or return envelope as compared with the signature on file. Policy determinations like the one at issue — which places the thumb on the scale in favor of a signature’s validity — should be made pursuant to properly promulgated rules under the APA or by the Legislature.“
Over 3.1 million Michigan voters sent in absentee ballot last November. Biden won the state’s electoral votes by a margin of just over 154,000.
This was not the only judicial ruling that something was amiss in the 2020 balloting. In neighboring Wisconsin, another closely contested state, the state Supreme Court ruled in December that state and local election officials erred when they gave blanket permission for voters to declare themselves home-bound and skip voter ID requirements in the 2020 elections.
In a case challenging the practice in Dane County, one of Wisconsin’s large urban centers around the city of Madison, the state’s highest court ruled that only those voters whose “own age, physical illness or infirmity” makes them home-bound could declare themselves “indefinitely confined” and avoid complying with the requirement for photo ID. Local officials like Dane County and Gov. Tony Evers, the case concluded, did not have legal authority to exempt all voters to get an absentee ballot without an ID. Evers had issued an executive order earlier this year.
“We conclude that both the contention that electors qualify as indefinitely confined solely as the result of the COVID19 pandemic and the declared public health emergency and the contention that Wis. Stat. § 6.86(2)(a) could be used for those who ‘have trouble presenting a valid ID’ are erroneous because those reasons do not come within the statutory criteria,” the court ruled. “We conclude that [Evers’] Emergency Order #12 did not render all Wisconsin electors ‘indefinitely confined,’ thereby obviating the requirement of a valid photo identification to obtain an absentee ballot.”
And in Virginia, a judge in January approved a consent decree permanently banning the acceptance of ballots without postmarks after Election Day, concluding that instructions from the Virginia Department of Elections to the contrary in 2020 had violated state law. The ruling came after the election, so it was the model of a Pyrrhic victory for the GOP.
“If the return envelope has a missing postmark, the ballot shall be rendered invalid,” Frederick County Circuit Judge William W. Eldridge IV ruled in the consent decree.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court washed its hands of the 2020 election controversies, declaring them moot, several more legal challenges remain in live in the states, and two investigations of voting machine logs are pending in Georgia and Arizona.
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