A late send-out for absentee ballots will have little effect on military personnel's ability to cast their vote in Dearborn, City Clerk Kathy Buda said this week–despite the fact that it has sparked a federal lawsuit.
Dearborn and Dearborn Heights have been named in U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against the state of Michigan as two of 70 local city and township clerks that missed deadlines for providing absentee ballots to military and overseas voters for the August primary election.
According to a release issued by Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a survey that asked Michigan municipalities to verify the status of absentee ballots found that 70 had missed the June 23 deadline for sending out ballots to military and overseas voters.
Another 215 clerks did not respond to the request.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the U.S. Justice Department has begun to take action by asking a federal judge in Grand Rapids to force some cities to take in absentee ballots after the Aug. 7 election. The lawsuit could mean that all named municipalities are required to extend their deadline for receiving the ballots.
Ballots must be provided to military and overseas voters who request them at least 45 days before an election, either by traditional mail or by email. In a statement, Secretary of State Johnson chastised those clerks offices who did not meet the deadline.
"Our clerks do an excellent job on the front lines of elections and the vast majority of them did comply with the deadline," Johnson said. "It is critical that our overseas voters and military members—who put their lives on the line every day to protect our freedom—get a right to participate in the very system they are protecting."
Buda confirmed that some of the ballots that went to military voters from Dearborn did not go out until July 25–two days after the deadline.
"It was a mistake on the part of my office," she said. "I'm accepting responsibility."
Buda added that military and overseas absentee ballots are a top priority for early send-out by her office, and the majority were email ballots, "so they got them instantaneously."
"We got emails from people in the military saying they were pleased with the service (from the clerk's office)," she added. "And we’re getting ballots back in."
An exact count of affected voters was not readily available, but numbers somewhere around 10-15, according to Buda.
She's confident that the voters will have ample time to submit their ballots, and has not yet been told that Dearborn will have to extend its deadline past the Aug. 7 primaries.
Moreover, Buda said of her office, "We’ve put procedures in place so that this will not ever happen again."
The Secretary of State's office said in a statement that it has instructed clerks in affected communities to contact military and overseas voters and to offer a new ballot if one was not received.
Johnson added that she will ask the legislature to strengthen state laws concerning military and overseas voters.
"We must ensure everyone who wants the opportunity to vote can do so, whether here or abroad," Johnson said. "They have a right to have their vote count, their voice heard."