(PresidentialWire.com)- A Michigan claims court judge has ruled that the Michigan Secretary of State erred in giving certain guidance to clerks regarding signatures on absentee ballots for the 2020 presidential election.
On Monday, Christopher Murray, a judge with the Michigan Court of Claims, ruled that Jocelyn Benson should not have instructed clerks throughout the state to presume signatures on absentee ballots were accurate. Through his ruling, he has invalidated that order, which Benson gave last October.
Murray ruled Benson didn’t go through the proper channels for rule making when she issued the guidance. Because of this, Murray said clerks don’t have to comply with that guidance in any future election.
In his ruling, Murray wrote:
“The presumption is found nowhere in state law. The mandatory presumption goes beyond the realm of mere advice and direction, and instead is a substantive directive that adds to the pertinent signature-matching standards.”
Benson is a Democrat, and Murray was appointed by former Governor John Engler, who is a Republican.
One of the plaintiffs in the suit, the Michigan Republican Party, was happy with the decision. However, officials with the state GOP said it came way too late to make any difference in the presidential election.
Ted Goodman, who serves as the state GOP’s communications director, said:
“It was clear from the outset that the secretary of state had violated Election Law by unilaterally directing local clerks to ignore their statutory obligation to compare absentee ballot signatures.”
How many ballots this affected no one will ever know. But, it’s possible it could have been enough to change the tide in a state that was very close in the end.
State law in Michigan requires all clerks to match signatures on applications for an absentee ballot as well as the envelopes on the absentee ballot to the signature that the state has on file. The idea is to ensure that the correct person submits the ballot, and it is not fraudulent.
The gray area here is that Michigan’s law does not defined what “agree sufficiently” means in regard to matching the signatures.
On October 6, 2020, Benson instructed the clerks who were matching signatures that they “must perform” these duties under the “presumption” the signature is valid. That validity must then be upheld if there were “more matching features than nonmatching features.”
Election officials and clerks were told to, whenever possible, resolve any difference “in favor of finding that the voter’s signature was valid,” according to Murray’s written ruling.
Murray didn’t rule on whether the directive violated the law, but he did say it violated the Administrative Procedures Act. He wrote:
“Nowhere in the state’s election law has the Legislature indicated that signatures are to be presumed valid, nor did the Legislature require that signatures are to be accepted so long as there are any redeeming qualities in the application or return envelope signature as compared with the signature on file.
“Policy determinations like the one at issue — which places a thumb on the scale in favor of a signature’s validity — should be made pursuant to properly promulgated rules under the APA or by the Legislature.”