By Associated Press - Tuesday, March 16, 2021

LANSING, Mich. — A judge has struck down a state directive that encourages local election clerks to be very flexible when reviewing signatures on absentee ballots.

The decision doesn’t apply to the recent fall election, of course, because it’s over. But the case is significant because the policy from Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson apparently would have applied to future elections, too, Judge Christopher Murray said last week.

Murray of the Court of Claims said Benson’s directive was illegal because it didn’t go through a formal rule-making process that involves the Legislature.

Benson told clerks last fall that they must presume a signature on an absentee ballot envelope or a ballot application is valid.

Signatures “should be considered questionable” only if they differ “in multiple, significant and obvious respects from the signature on file,” Benson said at the time.

More than 3 million absentee ballots were cast in the November election, the first major election since absentee voting was expanded in Michigan.

Benson, a Democrat, was sued by the Michigan Republican Party and Allegan County Clerk Robert Genetski, a Republican. They claimed the presumption in favor of a voter’s signature could lead to invalid votes.

“Nowhere in this 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,” Murray said.

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