DETROIT (Reuters) – Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday signed into law a bill that gives clerks in larger cities of the battleground state an extra 10 hours to open and sort, but not count, absentee ballots in a move to speed the Election Day counting process on Nov. 3.
Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, both Democrats, for months had advocated for the Republican-controlled state legislature to pass such a bill, arguing that without it election results could be significantly delayed and thousands of voters possibly disenfranchised.
“Your voice will be heard in November,” Whitmer said during a video news conference.
Benson called the new law “a step in the right direction,” but added that a final tally in Michigan may not be available until the Friday after Election Day.
The law also allows clerks to use an additional shift to process and count the ballots, and to contact voters if there are issues with signatures on the outside of the ballots, and calls for the installation of video monitors of absentee-ballot drop boxes.
The issue has taken on added importance as Americans rush to cast ballots ahead of the election at an unprecedented pace, indicating a possible record turnout for the showdown between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
Michigan is an important state, which Trump won by fewer than 11,000 votes in 2016, but is now leaning toward Biden according to opinion polls.
Demand for absentee ballots, especially among Democrats, has been driven by fear of infection from the coronavirus in public. Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that mail-in voting is prone to fraud.
Counting mail ballots is often slower because officials must open thick envelopes, verify ballots and voters’ identities, compared with the simpler, speedier process at a polling center where voters cast ballots in person.
Last month, a Michigan judge ruled that mailed ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 must be counted in the state as long as they are received within two weeks of the election.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Matthew Lewis)