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Election Integrity News Blog


Michigan’s New Permanent Absentee Voter List Law

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

By Anne Hill September 15, 2023

As of January 2022, five states and Washington DC allowed any voter to join a permanent absentee/mail ballot list and mailed that voter an absentee ballot for each election going forward: Arizona, District of Columbia, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, and Virginia.[1] In November 2022, Michiganders passed Proposal 2, a ballot initiative allowing Michigan voters to sign up for a permanent absentee voting list.

Permanent absentee voters – Might that bloat the voter rolls?

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has already been sued for her failure to remove over 26,000 dead voters from the Qualified Voter System. Perhaps a future lawsuit will require Benson to remove absentee voters who have moved or died.

Casting a ballot is both a privilege and a responsibility. Michigan already had a permanent absentee voting list that allowed participants to automatically receive an absentee/mail ballot application before every election. Registrants then filled out the application and returned it to the clerk (online, by mail, or in person) for verification. Upon verification, an absentee ballot was sent to the registrant.

With the passage of MCL 168.759e, city and township clerks must now keep track of those who want to vote absentee, and the clerk must automatically mail an absentee voter ballot for every election. This new law removed any responsibility or right of an individual to decide whether or not to vote absentee in a particular election. Every permanent mail ballot voter must be issued an absentee voter ballot for every election going forward.

[1] National Conference of State Legislatures, Table 3: States With Permanent Absentee Voting Lists, January 3, 2022.

How are registrants removed from the permanent absentee voter list?

An absent voter ballot application for all future elections may be rescinded only for any of the following reasons: a) the voter submits a signed request to rescind for all future elections; b) the voter is no longer qualified to vote in the state; c) the local clerk or secretary of state received notice the voter moved, but did not update their voter registration address; or d) the voter does not vote for six consecutive years.

Let us imagine a scenario. Say an individual—we’ll call her Mary Smith—moves from one precinct to another in this state. Mary’s ballot is sent to her former address. The current resident—we’ll call her Jane Green—completes and returns Mary’s ballot to the local precinct. No voter identification was required, so Mary’s ballot is fed into the tabulator and counted. Jane shows up to vote at the precinct and casts a ballot, also fed into the tabulator and counted.

Recalling that Michigan’s Secretary of State is in the midst of a lawsuit about the inaccuracy of the voter rolls, do Michigan voters have confidence that this error will be caught when Mary goes to vote at her new precinct? How could one of Jane’s two ballots be located and destroyed? If Jane’s double vote differed from Mary’s, it canceled Mary’s vote. If the unlawful double vote was the same as Mary’s, it canceled someone’s else’s vote.

Other than allowing for the voter to submit a signed request to be removed, the law is unclear as to any processes or checks and balances for addressing any of the likely scenarios described above.

Who notifies the election official that the voter is no longer qualified to vote?

Was Mary supposed to remember that she was on a permanent absentee voter list and go back to the clerk to change her address before she moved?

What if instead of moving, Mary died? As we have heard since at least the 2020 general election, there have been numerous allegations throughout the country of incarcerated persons, deceased, and mentally incapacitated registrants voting.

What qualifies as “reliable information?” Who notifies the election official? While ensuring the qualified voter file’s accuracy may be a top concern for the local clerk, lack of time and resources, coupled with the pressures of their other day-to-day duties, may constraint these officials from taking the initiative to re-verify the list before each election.

Who decides what “reliable information” is? Is Jane Green allowed to show up at the precinct and say, Mary Smith is no longer in the precinct and needs to be removed from the permanent absentee voter list? What if Mary is in the same precinct but moved to a nearby address?

Finally, if the permanent mail ballot voter does not vote for six consecutive years, they will be removed from the QVF. In the City of East Lansing in 2020, 383 registrants 40 to 73 years of age were registered to the address of a fraternity or sorority house. Of these, five were issued absentee ballots and voted absentee. None of the frat houses where these five 40-plus year olds voted absentee have house mothers or fathers.

How clerks are responding

In the face of the most dramatic and voluminous changes codified into law in more than 20 years, many clerks are expressing frustration. They are trying to figure out how to accomplish the multiple changes, including early voting.

The overwhelming effect of this barrage of legislator-induced changes to our election laws is amplified in smaller jurisdictions with part-time staff and elected election officials, often working one or two days a week.

What the clerks need right now, it seems, is a fishing hook to deal with the can of worms they’ve been given with this and myriad other new election laws.

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