Topline

 A Michigan court ruled in favor of the state’s top election official Wednesday, allowing her to mail unsolicited absentee ballot applications to registered voters statewide, a decision that comes as states across the nation are seeking to make it easier to vote by mail amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Key Facts

In a 2-1 split decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson could legally send ballot applications to registered voters, even if they hadn’t requested one.

Benson was named in multiple lawsuits brought by Michigan voters in July who claimed she was overstepping her bounds and sending ballots applications illegally — a lower court ruled against the plaintiffs, who then tried to appeal.

Michigan voters needed a specific reason to request an absentee ballot until 2018, when they approved Proposition 3, which allows registered voters to request an absentee ballot without having to provide a reason.

The majority opinion reasoned that since anyone can request a ballot for any reason, Benson was within her constitutional authority to send “an application to each registered voter, which the voter was then free to fill out and return, or not.”

Eleven states including Michigan and the District of Columbia are sending ballots automatically and in 35 states voters can request a mail-in ballot with no excuse or cite fear of contracting Covid-19 as a rationale.

Chief Critic

President Donald Trump has been a fierce critic of mail-in voting, claiming without evidence that mail-in ballots would lead to rampant election fraud. His campaign, along with the Republican National Committee and other GOP groups have filed lawsuits against at least three states over the universal mail-in voting.

Key Background

More voters are expected to mail in ballots during the upcoming election than in any other in U.S. history, according to the New York Times, which predicted roughly 80 million ballots to be mailed to election offices. Concerns that the coronavirus pandemic would keep people from voting, or threaten people who visited a polling place on Election Day, led many states to make temporary changes to laws regarding who can request an absentee ballot and when those mail-in ballots will be counted

Further Reading

Court rules in favor of Secretary Benson in mailing absentee ballot applications to registered voters (WLNS6)

Absentee ballot lawsuits against Benson: Everything you need to know (Detroit Free Press)

Election 2020 Battleground States: Here’s How They’ll Count Mail-In Ballots (Forbes)

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