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Active duty military serving overseas could vote electronically under Michigan Senate-passed bill

New voting laws require military and overseas voters to submit federal postcard applications for absentee ballots on a yearly basis. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Raheem Moore)
October 31, 2019

Active duty members of the military serving overseas could send in their absentee ballots electronically under legislation passed in the Michigan Senate Wednesday.

Senate Bills 117 and 297, sponsored by Senate Elections Chair Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, and Sen. Paul Wojno, D-Warren, would allow electronic absentee ballot returns for military voters serving overseas. The voter would sign their absentee ballot with an electronic signature verified by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Under federal law, states are required to provide electronic absentee ballots to active members of the military 45 days before an election. But because Michigan doesn’t allow electronic absentee ballots, military voters serving overseas currently have to print out the ballot and mail it back – an extra step that can be difficult for people serving in areas with little to no mail service.

“Voting is one of the most fundamental rights an American citizen has, and we shouldn’t be complicating it for our men and women serving abroad,” Wojno said in a statement. “Americans want soldiers to be able to vote, and this legislation would make it easier for them to do so and ensure their ballot is counted.”

Johnson, who previously served as Secretary of State, said the idea originally stemmed from a bipartisan group of secretaries of state who traveled to the Middle East and met with troops on several bases and ships. Postal service is particularly inconsistent for service members in combat areas or on ships at sea, she said in a statement.

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“These bills will protect the security of our elections while also giving our service men and women every opportunity to vote as they defend our country,” Johnson said.

The bills are now headed to the House of Representatives, and would need to be approved by the House and signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to become law.

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