(AP) — Senate Republicans on Wednesday relaxed legislation that would have prohibited the use of absentee ballot drop boxes on Election Day, instead proposing to close them at 5 p.m. — three hours before Michigan polls close.
The change, which did not appease opponents, was announced as the GOP-led Senate Elections Committee held its third hearing on measures in a 39-bill package, parts of which would restrict the absentee voting process.
Sen. Ed McBroom, a Vulcan Republican, said officials in Detroit — the state's largest city — faced a “huge burden” collecting and counting thousands of ballots in drop boxes in November's presidential election.
As introduced, his bill would have closed boxes across Michigan at 5 p.m. on the eve of an election instead of 8 p.m. on Election Night — 27 hours earlier. Now, they would be locked at 5 p.m. on Election Day.
The goal is to let clerks gather and process ballots earlier “so they're not out after hours working all night to process thousands and thousands of ballots," McBroom said. “This was really an effort to help with that administrative hurdle.”
Absentee voters could return their ballots in person to their clerk's office after 5 p.m., he said.
But critics of the legislation, including local election administrators, said drop boxes should remain open until 8 p.m.
“The fact is that drop boxes are a popular, convenient and secure way for voters to exercise their now-constitutional right... to vote by absentee ballot” under a 2018 constitutional amendment, said Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians. Amid a surge in absentee voting in 2020, she said, drop boxes “provided a safe way, especially during a global pandemic, to avoid lines on Election Day and problems with mail delivery.”
The panel did not vote on any bills. Testimony on the package will continue next week.