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Opinion | Michigan GOP’s ‘election integrity’ bills are 21st Century Jim Crow

It has been more than 140 days since the 2020 presidential election took place, and only slightly fewer days since President Joe Biden was declared its outright winner. Not only was there record turnout for the election (during a pandemic), but it was also the most secure in history.

Sadly, it should come as no surprise that Michigan’s legislative Republicans – who hold the majority in both chambers, including maintaining that majority in the House this past November – are still insistent upon ensuring we never again have such increased participation, especially during elections in which a member of their party loses power.

Erika Geiss
Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor, is executive vice chair of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus. (Courtesy photo)

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The power-hungry party of the privileged, Michigan’s Republican Party, is worried. A slate of Democratic women handily won their elections in 2018, and their idol, Donald Trump, lost his in November 2020. Further, thanks to the overwhelming support of Prop. 2 (also in 2018), they no longer have the power to draw their own districts. So, what do they do? They introduce 39 bills aimed at making voting more difficult and the jobs of clerks and elections workers more cumbersome.

The record turnout for the 2020 election yielded Prop 2 and Prop 3 ballot measures being overwhelmingly approved by the people, and that are now part of our state constitution. Michigan, and national, Republicans are angry and scared that a majority of Black and Brown people voted in record numbers last November, and this voter suppression package introduced by legislative Republicans is, plain and simple, a resurrection of Jim Crow. 

Their actions are clear and their intent fools no one. They invited the proverbial clown car presidential lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to spout false, unfounded lies about election fraud during a committee meeting. They made a commitment, even after being branded a national embarrassment, to furthering “election integrity” – and especially when it comes to silencing those who give them the most (and well-earned) gruff: Black and Brown voices. Eleven of them even sent a seditionist-laden letter to Congress calling on the Electoral College to delay certification of the election, just days before people died in an unprecedented insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that was foreshadowed by the events of April 30, 2020 at our own State Capitol.

Now, the GOP’s heavy-handed election “reform” package would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Michiganders. In addition to it running absolutely counter to their alleged “small government” principles, it’s a disgusting attempt at dictating and controlling precisely who can and cannot vote, along with when, how, and where. I wish this was all an exaggeration, but here are a handful of examples of what their bills would do, including:

  • Enact restrictive voter ID requirements.
  • Require voters to make a copy of their ID – as if everyone has copy machines around – to send in along with their absentee ballot.
  • Outright prohibit the mailing of absentee ballot applications, unless expressly requested.
  • Set a shorter deadline for when one can return a completed absentee ballot.
  • Require legislative approval of federal funds appropriated for election purposes.
  • Add additional requirements for municipal clerks’ handling of election materials both before and after the election – some of which will be costly.

Make no mistake: These are not random changes. These are intentional and designed to punish places or people who didn’t vote for them, like those in Oakland County where the local clerk provided prepaid postage on absentee voter ballot return envelopes – an act that would also be prohibited under one of their proposed bills. Coincidentally, Oakland County has been voting increasingly Democrat since the 2018 election, and was one of the places that propelled President Biden to win Michigan.

Meanwhile, since November, thousands of Michiganders have died from COVID-19 and thousands more continue to test positive. Yet, Republicans refuse to do anything to slow or stop the spread of the virus. They continue to try to get the governor or her appointees to cede their power to save lives, including holding federal funds for education hostage, and channel efforts into voter suppression tactics like this bill package. Their rhetoric and actions are beyond shameful and speak volumes about their desperation to hold onto power that they have proven they don’t deserve.

However, they are fooling themselves if they think the power of voters’ voices will be suppressed by legislation that offers pretentious solutions to problems that do not exist. This legislation is nothing short of a pathetic attempt to create voting apartheid, limit and restrict access to voting booths that disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities, and further perpetuate the institutional, systemic racism we still live with every day.

My Democratic colleagues and I will do all we can to continue expanding voting rights and access to the ballot regardless of what they look like, where they come from, or for whom they vote. Bills that violate the right of people to vote and restrict their access to the ballot box is electoral violence, and we must prevent such electoral terrorism at all costs.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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