Secretary Benson testifies in support of allowing deployed service members to vote electronically

Election NewsMARCH 4, 2020

Calls for amendment to make bill functional and
inclusive of military spouses

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson testified before the House Elections and Ethics Committee today in support of Senate Bill 117, which would allow for the electronic return of absentee ballots by military voters using Department of Defense Common Access Cards.

“We have an obligation to modernize our laws in order to provide secure voting options for military members stationed overseas,” said Benson. “Making sure they can effectively transmit their votes, and we can accurately count them, should be a top priority. I’m proud to support legislation that will do that.”

While speaking in support of the legislation, Secretary Benson cautioned that as written, the bill would not actually enable military voters to vote electronically, as the legislation requires the use of a military Common Access Card. The state does not have authority to integrate the Common Access Card into our voting system, and even if it did, the use of the card is burdensome for military members and can prove dysfunctional at times. Further, the cards are not provided to deployed spouses and family members. As the vast majority of military spouses are women, the legislation could open the state to a gender discrimination claim under the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.

Following Secretary Benson’s testimony, state Representative Vanessa Guerra introduced substitute H-3, which would have removed the requirement that Common Access Cards be used for electronic ballot return and made the right to electronic return available to military spouses. It was rejected 5-2 with Reps. Guerra and Kara Hope voting in favor.

“I continue to support the intent of this legislation, but am stunned by the committee’s decision to pass it in a way that ignores the realities of implementation and unnecessarily excludes military spouses and their dependents,” said Benson.

Testimony was also provided by Liz Snell, a Michigander, former nominee for Military Spouse of the Year, and co-founder of Military Spouses of Strength. “I am pleased that this legislation will move forward, and hopeful that other legislators will do the right thing and recognize that military spouses also deserve the right to effectively participate in our democracy,” she said after the committee voted.

Tripp Adams, a Michigan veteran who served overseas in the United States Army and Navy, also spoke during Committee on the problematic nature of the Common Access Card.

“Due to the constant need by the military to update the systems that underlie the card, service members frequently go days if not weeks without access to personal services,” he said after the hearing. “In the case of a 45-day requirement to cast a ballot, this would make it difficult if not impossible for us to vote.”

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