A Michigan judge ruled that Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson violated state law when she set forth “guidance” related to how absentee ballots should be counted.
State Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray ruled that Benson did not follow the established processes when ordering election officials to take the benefit of the doubt regarding the accuracy of signatures on absentee ballots, The Detroit News reports.
The presumption is found nowhere in state law,” wrote Murray. “The mandatory presumption goes beyond the realm of mere advice and direction, and instead is a substantive directive that adds to the pertinent signature-matching standards.”
The Michigan GOP was ecstatic to hear about this ruling, saying that they had always thought that laws were broken.
“It was clear from the outset that the secretary of state had violated Election Law by unilaterally directing local clerks to ignore their statutory obligation to compare absentee ballot signatures,” said Michigan GOP Communications Director Ted Goodman to The Detroit News.
“….Nowhere in the state’s election law has the Legislature indicated that signatures are to be presumed valid, nor did the Legislature require that signatures are to be accepted so long as there are any redeeming qualities in the application or return envelope signature as compared with the signature on file,” said Murray.
“Policy determinations like the one at issue — which places a thumb on the scale in favor of a signature’s validity — should be made pursuant to properly promulgated rules under the APA or by the Legislature,” continued Murray.
The APA, or Administrative Procedures Act, requires state agencies that want to change a rule to go through a rigorous process of public notices, drafts, impact analyses, public comment, and hearings, which can take months to do. Eventually, the rule change will end up in the hands of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which could take up to 15 days to approve the changes. The Secretary of State did not go through these procedures when changing the rule before the election.
The judge did not state whether the decision by Benson violated state election laws.
Murray previously had rejected a request to look into how Benson’s guiadance effected the results in Michigan because the state’s Constitution only applies to “election results,” not how the votes are verified, and gives the authority of an audit to the secretary of state.
“There is no support in the statute for plaintiffs to demand that an audit cover the subject of their choosing or to dictate the manner in which an audit is conducted,” said Murray.
“If she wants to make changes like these, she needs to work with the Legislature or properly promulgate them through the laws we have on the books — in this case the Administrative Procedures Act,” said Republican Rep. Matt Hall to The Detroit News.