Lawsuit dropped over late absentee military ballots

By SHERRI KOLADE
Times-Herald Newspapers

A lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice over late absentee military ballots was dismissed after an agreement to extend the deadline for late absentee military ballots to military voters and to accept and count the affected ballots was reached between Michigan and the United States.

The United States filed a stipulation and proposed order with Michigan to dismiss the case, which U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker approved on Aug. 6.

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson originally announced July 31 that a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit was underway after about 70 communities, including Dearborn and Dearborn Heights, sent in late absentee and military ballots to military and overseas voters for the Aug. 7 primary election.

State law requires that ballots be mailed to military and overseas voters who request them at least 45 days before an election, either via mail or email.

Johnson also said she was pleased that the judge did not agree with the DOJ’s demands for paperwork from election officials

“Our Bureau of Elections staff will continue working with local clerks to ensure military and overseas ballots are sent out in a timely way to prevent missed deadlines in the future and implement the appropriate level of verification,” Johnson said.

Johnson added that she plans to help change the state law that allows the Secretary of State’s office to lengthen the the period of accepting and counting overseas and military ballots if a local jurisdiction does not send out the ballots by its 45-day deadline.

According to www.justice.gov, the lawsuit came from the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act and was filed in federal district court in the Western District of Michigan.

According to the statement, 215 clerks did not respond to repeated requests from the Michigan Department of State for a status on their efforts to provide the ballots.

In Wayne County, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Melvindale went into the non-compliant category, according to the statement.

Michigan Department of State Spokesperson Fred Woodhams said the state is pleased with the judge’s ruling.

“We are going forward with the agreement from the Department of Justice,” Woodhams said. “It was resolved and the main point was that the county deadline was extended for jurisdictions to count ballots for military voters.”

According to the Secretary of State announcement, if legal action did take place, clerks who missed the 45-day deadline would be required to extend the time for receiving and counting the ballots for the affected voters.

Dearborn Heights City Clerk Walter Prusiewicz said one voter received his ballot late but he voted in time for the primary.

“We don’t face any penalties,” Prusiewicz said. “There is no issue.”

Dearborn City Clerk Kathleen Buda said the city had four absentee military ballots sent out two days late; three were emailed and one was sent by regular mail.

Buda said it was her understanding that the absentee-ballot voters did not want to vote in the primary but in the general election.

“The form they fill out doesn’t specify any given election so we sent them (ballots) for the primary,” Buda said. “Procedures are in place so this never happens again in Dearborn.”

Buda added that the city extended the deadline an additional day.

(Sherri Kolade can be reached at skolade@bewickpublications.com.)

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