Published: Friday, July 27, 2012, 6:17 PM Updated: Friday, July 27, 2012, 6:17 PM
LANSING, MI - The U.S. Justice Department is expected to sue the state because at least 70 city and township clerks across Michigan missed deadlines to give absentee ballots to military and overseas voters, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said late Friday.
Under state and federal law, clerks are supposed to make absentee ballots available at least 45 days before an election to military and overseas voters who request them. The primary election is Aug. 7.
Johnson, a Republican, said the suit could force clerks to extend the time for receiving and counting affected ballots.
Johnson said 70 communities missed the deadline - including larger ones such as Battle Creek, Ferndale, Dearborn and Canton Township. Another 215 clerks did not respond to repeated requests from Johnson's office for a status on whether they provided the ballots.
Michigan has more than 1,500 local clerks responsible for conducting elections.
"It is critical that our overseas 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," she said in a statement.
The state Bureau of Elections sent at least three reminders to clerks before the 45-day deadline, Johnson said, and also has a calendar of dates to help clerks.
She has instructed clerks in the affected communities to immediately contact military and overseas voters and offer a new ballot if they did not get one.
Johnson said she will ask the Legislature to stiffen "administrative remedies" so federal lawsuits are not needed.
Absentee ballots for military and overseas voters can be provided by mail or email. Email saves clerks as much as two weeks in arrival and response times.
Clerks that missed the deadline - mostly township clerks - handle elections in counties such as Bay, Genesee, Kent, Van Buren, Muskegon and Kalamazoo.
Here are the unresponsive Clerks : http://www.michigan.gov/documents/sos/MOVE_NON_RESPONDER_2012_393590_7.pdf