Michigan House approves bill that moves August primary to June

Michigan’s August primary date would be moved six weeks earlier, to June, and the state would be required to more quickly check if ballot drives have submitted enough qualifying signatures for the general election under bills approved Tuesday in the House.

The Republican-led chamber also passed legislation that would make county clerks directly update the voter file to account for deaths and do more frequent checks for dead people as an election nears.

Michigan has three regular election dates: in May, August — when the primary is held — and November. The House voted 63-46, with many Democrats and some Republicans in opposition, to consolidate the May and August elections into one on the third Tuesday in June, starting in 2023.

"I believe this will optimize voter engagement. We know consolidation will lead to local savings," the main sponsor, GOP Rep. Julie Calley of Portland, told a House committee last month.

She said June is the most popular month for primaries nationally. Michigan clerks who administer elections say the time between August and November is too compressed.

Changing the primary date has some bipartisan support, including from Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. She recently said the change should not take effect until after 2022 due to an expected delay in the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional and legislative districts.

School officials oppose having fewer elections at which they can ask voters to approve tax and bond proposals. Some lawmakers worry not having summer months to knock doors in primary races could hurt candidates with less money.

The legislation was sent to the GOP-controlled Senate, as was a measure — passed 60-49 on mostly party lines — that would require the state elections bureau to review and complete its review of ballot initiative signatures within 90 days of them being filed. The Board of State Canvassers, which certifies proposals for the ballot after the bureau determines there are enough valid signatures, must decide at least 100 days before the next general election.

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Unlock Michigan, a Republican-affiliated group trying to kill a law Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to issue COVID-19 orders, has complained that the bureau took too long to canvass its signatures. State officials have said they were tied up preparing for last year’s presidential election and doing postelection audits, and the deadline is not until 2022. The review was completed last week, more than six months after the petitions were turned in.

The emergency powers law was declared unconstitutional last fall.

The bill, if enacted, could become a factor if the GOP tries to sidestep Whitmer by pursuing a ballot measure that could make it harder to vote. Under the state constitution, legislators can enact a citizen-initiated bill and avoid a veto. But such legislation would need to be passed by year’s end to take effect in time for the 2022 election.

Requiring a speedier review of signatures could aid the effort.