Capitol News

Election Matters 2020

The heightened political activity during a presidential election year has been augmented recently with concerns about safety in voting — both the physical safety of persons from the spread of COVID-19 at polling places and the safety of our ballots from “mind hacking” disinformation, postal delays, and election shenanigans of various kinds. Vigilance is required!

Absentee Voting — Absentee voting takes some planning and know-how. Help your children, grandchildren, friends, and neighbors with this relatively new experience for most voters. As it turns out, Michigan senior citizens are trusted by younger voters for advice on these matters. After all, seniors comprise 4 million of the 7.7 million registered voters in Michigan.

With fears of COVID-19 droplets and aerosols in indoor locations of any kind (especially those that are crowded and/or have poor ventilation), up to 80 percent of voters are expected to take advantage of Michigan’s 2018 law that permits no-reason absentee voting.

Absentee ballots will be available 45 days before November 3. If you have put yourself on the permanent absentee ballot list with your city or township clerk, you should be receiving your ballot sometime on or after September 24. If you haven’t requested an absentee ballot, you can do so online and save a phone call or stamp at www.michigan.gov/vote. Otherwise, call your city or township clerk for an application for an absentee ballot to be sent to you or visit your clerk and fill out the application. Do this very soon!

In Michigan, voters have until 8 p.m. on Election Day to return a mail-in ballot. To be counted, it needs to arrive by mail on Election Day, not just be postmarked by then. More than 6,000 ballots did not arrive in time to be counted during the August primary.

Detroit — In the August 4 primary, Detroit reported errors with the city’s absentee voter boards not balancing their poll books. With a shortage of poll workers due to COVID-19 fears and some poll workers spending 20 hours straight at work under pressure to get a timely result, some absentee ballots were not first checked against the official poll book, thus producing errors.

In response, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced September 2 that Detroit will see recruitment and training of at least 6,000 election workers to ensure the city’s 182 polling locations and 134 absentee counting boards are fully staffed. Additional staff will be hired to support the city clerk’s office. More than 30 ballot drop boxes and an additional 14 satellite clerk offices will be added in the run up to the November 3 election. There are also plans to revise protocols for ballot counting and sorting to “make more effective use of high-speed scanners and reduce the potential for error,” the SOS department said. Former Bureau of Elections Director Christopher Thomas will serve as a senior advisor on this project.

Detroit is the first city in the nation to engage all four of its professional sports teams to engender voter education and elections training.

U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Issues — The USPS is reported to have big issues with on-time delivery of both mail and parcels these days. There have been reports of the removal of mail boxes and sorting machines across the country, including some in Michigan. President Trump has attacked mail-in balloting (a bit different than Michigan’s absentee voting process), calling it fraudulent and a threat to his candidacy and suggesting he’d withhold funding for the Postal Service to stop the practice.

USPS officials warned Michigan and 45 other states that there’s no guarantee absentee ballots would arrive in time to be counted in November. The Postal Service has also notified states it will end its longstanding policy of processing ballots as first-class mail, regardless of what type of postage is used.

Lawsuit — On August 18, Michigan joined 19 other states in suing the USPS in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. The lawsuit argues that the changes proposed and already implemented by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy are both procedurally and substantively unlawful and threaten the timely delivery of mail to individuals who rely on the USPS for everything from medical prescriptions to ballots.

Under federal law, changes to USPS operations that affect nationwide mail service must be submitted to the Postal Regulatory Commission and the public must be provided an opportunity to comment. The lawsuit asks the court to compel the USPS to submit a proposal requesting an advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission on the proposed changes in postal operations. It also seeks an injunction prohibiting USPS from implementing operational changes until it has an appropriate advisory opinion from the Commission and asks the court to order USPS to rescind any changes it already illegally made without that opinion.

Senate Hearing — Michigan’s U.S. Senator Gary Peters, ranking member of the U.S. Senate committee that oversees the Postal Service, began asking questions about the Postal Service in July after receiving more than 7,500 complaints about delivery delays. In questioning before the Senate committee in August, Postmaster General DeJoy defended the removal of mail boxes, sorting machines, instructing carriers to leave mail behind for the following day, reduced operating hours, and reduction of overtime, saying they did not affect performance and were needed to cut costs. He said the postal service will continue to put a priority on political mail to ensure its timely delivery whether an absentee ballot or a candidate’s advertisement.

Local MailBridge Magazine did a test of 50 pieces of mail to within-city mailing addresses in ten counties in Michigan. Only two took more than three days (Midland, 5 days; Birmingham, 6 days) and most took just two days. More than 30 letters sent in Antrim, Clare, Grand Traverse, Ingham, Midland, Monroe, Muskegon, and Washtenaw counties took just two days or less to arrive. Three letters in Houghton took three days, three letters in Oakland County (West Bloomfield, Birmingham, and Beverly Hills) took three days. In helping a friend to get an absentee ballot at her assisted living facility, it took seven days for the ballot to be sent from the East Lansing Clerk’s office to her address in East Lansing, too late for her to vote even though it was mailed timely according to Michigan law.

The Michigan SOS is advising voters to deliver absentee ballots to their clerk or clerk’s drop box. If you mail your absentee ballot, put two stamps on it and mail by October 20, two weeks before Election Day.

Note: Mail-Order Rx: State of Michigan retirees on Medicare concerned about timely delivery of mail-order prescriptions are reminded that they can change their prescriptions to a local retail pharmacy and get their 90-day supplies for the same co-pay as mail order through OptumRx. Active State of Michigan employees and non-Medicare retirees can only get the reduced 90-day supply co-pay through mail order.

Ballot Proposals — Ballot language for two legislatively approved constitutional amendments was approved for the November ballot by the Board of State Canvassers on September 2. The Michigan Constitution permits either a two-thirds vote of both chambers to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot or by petition of 8 percent of registered voters.

Ballot Proposal 2020-1 will state “A proposed constitutional amendment to allow money from oil and gas mining on state-owned lands to continue to be collected in state funds for land protection and creation and maintenance of parks, nature areas, and public recreation facilities; and to describe how money in those state funds can be spent.”

The proposal then structures how money would be split: at least 20 percent of Endowment Fund annual spending for state park improvement and at least 25 percent of Trust Fund annual spending for parks and public recreation areas. Another 25 percent, at minimum, would be for land conservation.

Ballot proposal 2020-2 will state “A proposed constitutional amendment to require a search warrant in order to access a person’s electronic data or electronic communications.”

If adopted, the proposal would require a search warrant to access a person’s electronic data or electronic communications, under the same conditions currently required for the government to obtain a search warrant to search a person’s house or seize a person’s things.

Dis- and misinformation — Robocalls into Michigan recently saying that if a person votes by mail they will be subjected to police, debtor, and Center for Disease Control harassment were part of a scam to deter absentee voting according Secretary of State Benson and Attorney General Nessel. A recording of the robocall claims that if a person votes by mail, it will allow police to “track down old warrants,” allow credit card companies to “collect outstanding debt,” and for the CDC to track individuals down “for mandatory vaccines.” It ends by telling the receiver that they should not be tricked into “giving their private information to the man” and to “beware of vote by mail.” Both Benson and Nessel condemned the calls and warned voters to beware of future similar schemes.

Should a person receive such a call, Benson and Nessel urge the recipient to take down the robocaller’s caller-ID number, the exact time and date of robocall and, if possible, a recording of the message as well as their own phone number and mobile carrier. That information can then be sent to the AG’s office by filing a complaint on the one-stop online website for all information about illegal robocalls at www.mi.gov/robocalls, or by calling 877-765-8388. Reports on voter scams can be sent to the SOS Elections Bureau at elections@michigan.gov or by calling 517-373-2540.

Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at 1200 Prescott Drive, East Lansing, MI 48823-2446; Phone 517-351-7292; E-mail michigansera@comcast.net.

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