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Michigan GOP passes more bills to tighten election rules. Expect more vetoes.

voting booth
The Republican-led Michigan Legislature passed election reform bills that Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is likely to veto as has with related legislation. (Shutterstock)

LANSING— Republican legislators passed bills Thursday aimed at tightening the state’s voting process amid continued scrutiny over the security of the 2020 elections.

But like other legislation passed by Republicans over election rules, vetoes are likely from Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

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The Senate voted 22-16 to pass House Bills 4127 and 4128, which would require the Secretary of State to remove voters who don’t respond to a letter notifying them they need to update their birthdate or who haven’t voted since 2000 from the state’s Qualified Voter File.

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Another bill, Senate Bill 279, also passed with a 22-16 vote and would allow poll watchers to take shifts at polling stations. The bill’s sponsor is the state’s former secretary of state, Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, who said poll watchers are not allowed back to take a break and exit polling places.

Rep. Matt Marshall, R-Marshall, said the legislation is necessary to “restore the confidence of the people of Michigan in our elections.” 

“We need to modernize our election laws to give people in Michigan confidence that our voter rolls are accurate and that there aren’t dead people on them,” Hall said. “These are reasonable reforms that came from the Auditor General’s recommendations.”

Related: Michigan audit: Minimal 'duplicate,' dead voters in 2020 presidential vote

The two House bills will hit Whitmer’s desk early next week, according to Hall’s office. 

Secretary of State spokesperson Tracy Wimmer said her office initially supported both House reform bills but now opposes them because of amendments from GOP lawmakers.

“Legislative leaders …  rewrote them in ways that would burden clerks and voters and prevent the bills from accomplishing their original purpose,” Wimmer said. 

In one case, voters flagged as inactive would have to provide birth certificates to confirm registrations, a step not needed when registering to vote. Wimmer also said the bills would require the Secretary of State to develop “roughly 1,500 different mailers with individualized return addresses for each (municipal clerk), costing more time and taxpayer dollars.”

The bills are the latest in a flurry of legislation that followed former President Donald Trump’s false claims of fraud following the 2020 election. Multiple audits have confirmed President Joe Biden’s victory here.

Whitmer has vetoed numerous GOP election reform bills, and critics say many are solutions in search of a problem. The Michigan Auditor General’s Office found the election went smoothly but there were some issues with duplicate votes and maintaining voter rolls.

In a state where more than 5 million ballots were cast in 2020, auditors found that 20 voters recorded as casting ballots in 2020 had died before the absentee voting period began. In most cases, the blame was sloppy record keeping and not illegal votes.

Faced with a likely veto from Whitmer, Johnson said legislators will “do the right thing every time.” 

“I really don’t understand some of the things she does,” she said of Whitmer. “She can do what she has the power to do, although we all disagree with her.”

The legislation comes as Republican-backed groups collect signatures for the Secure MI Vote petition initiative, which has election reforms similar to those that Whitmer blocked in the past. 

Related: What to know about Secure MI Vote initiative: security or suppression?

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Among other things, the measure aims to accomplish the following: toughen in-person ID rules, require ID information for absentee ballot applications, bar unsolicited absentee ballots applications to voters and prohibit private election funding. 

The group needs to collect at least 340,047 voter signatures to send its initiative to the state Legislature, where organizers expect GOP majorities will enact it into law, using a unique constitutional provision to circumvent a veto by Whitmer.

Democrats and progressives who oppose the petition say the reforms are part of a broader effort to suppress the vote by stoking unfounded fears about election security.

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