A judge has ruled that Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson violated state law last year when she issued “guidance” on how absentee ballots should be evaluated.
State Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray ruled last week that Benson, a Democrat, did not follow the proper rule-making process when instructing voting clerks in October to presume the accuracy of absentee ballot signatures, and the guidance is now invalid, according to the Detroit News.
“The presumption is found nowhere in state law,” Murray, a Republican-appointed judge, wrote in the ruling. “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.”
Murray wrote that Benson issued the rules without following the process for creating a rule under state and federal law, thus violating the state’s Administrative Procedures Act.
Murray contends that the rule stated only signatures with “multiple significant and obvious” inconsistencies should be questioned, which he argued fell within the definition of an administrative rule that required a multiple-step process that was not undertaken last year.
“An agency must utilize formal rulemaking procedures when establishing policies that ‘do not merely interpret or explain the statute or rules from which the agency derives its authority,’ but rather ‘establish the substantive standards implementing the program,’” Murray wrote.