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Michigan GOP unveils election ‘reforms.’ Most would make voting harder.

voting
New material and testimony released by a congressional committee reveal that then-President Trump continued to press false accounts about voting integrity in Antrim County after it was known by his administration that the allegations were without merit. (Bridge Michigan file photo)

June 23: GOP investigation finds no Michigan vote fraud, deems many claims ‘ludicrous’
June 16: Michigan GOP passes voter ID bill to deter ‘fraud.’ Critics call it ‘garbage’
April 9: We read all Michigan election reform bills. Many would add hurdles to voting.

LANSING — Senate Republicans on Wednesday introduced a sweeping election reform plan that proposes strict photo identification rules for Michigan voters, new limits on absentee ballot drop boxes and a ban on prepaid return postage.

Critics lambasted the package as a “voter suppression” effort that will make it harder to vote, especially people of color. But the plan, championed by Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey as a way to make “cheating harder” and voting easier, would also expand ballot access in some ways. 

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It would require local clerks to open for early voting on the second Saturday before an election, for instance, and create a mechanism to pre-register 16-year-olds who get their driver license so they can automatically vote in the first election after they turn 18. 

Those bills are “nice surprises” in a package that is otherwise “quite bad” for voters and coincides with a national GOP effort to restrict rights following false fraud claims by former President Donald Trump and his supporters, said Marissa Kovach of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

“Largely, this package is a lot of non-solutions chasing a lot of non-problems with policies crafted based on the lies that were allowed to perpetuate about there being fraud in the November election,” she said. “We know that’s not true.”

Michigan voters enshrined voting rights into the state constitution in 2018, approving a ballot measure that guaranteed no-reason absentee ballot voting, same-day registration and straight-ticket voting, among other things. 

In 2020, the first presidential election since those changes, a record 5.5 million Michiganders voted, including 3.3 million by absentee ballot. 

The Senate GOP plan would:

  • Require voters to show ID when voting in person and when requesting an absentee ballot. People without ID could still cast a ballot, but those ballots would be considered “provisional” and would not be counted on Election Day or unless verified at a later date. 
  • Prohibit local governments from providing prepaid postage on any absentee ballot return envelope, which several cities have done but GOP critics contend created an uneven playing field in statewide elections. 
  • Prohibit the Secretary of State from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters, a step Democrat Jocelyn Benson took last year to encourage voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, drawing the ire of Republicans because some applications were mailed to old addresses.
  • Impose new — and potentially costly — regulations on absentee ballot drop boxes, which clerks would need to use high-definition video cameras to continually monitor and lock for good at 5 p.m. on the day before an election. That would require voters to submit any additional absentee ballots at a clerk’s office before polls close on Election Day. 
  • Require training for political party poll challengers within three years of an election and, for the first time, allow poll challengers to film ballot tabulation — but not individual voters — at Election Day polling places.

Those are “commonsense measures that will protect the integrity of our elections by safeguarding the right for people to vote and ensuring our elections are safe and secure,” said Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, who previously served as Secretary of State.

“For our democratic system to work, we must ensure the people of Michigan have the ability and opportunity to exercise their right to vote and have confidence in the fairness and accuracy of elections,” she said in a statement. 

But the strict new voter ID rules could “disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters in Michigan who do not have government-issued ID and are unable to obtain it” because of transportation or financial constraints, said Kovach, of the ACLU. 

“It will be disproportionately felt by elderly, Black and rural voters,” she told Bridge Michigan.

Some studies have claimed as many as 13 percent of African-American residents nationwide lack a government-issued ID. As a whole, Black voters are among the most reliably Democratic demographic.

Under current Michigan law, in-person voters must either show ID or sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury. 

The GOP plan would waive that affidavit option, and it would require voters to show clerks their ID or mail in a copy with any absentee ballot application, which is not currently required unless it is a voter’s first election and they did provide ID earlier, such as while registering in person.

That’s concerning because not all absentee ballot applicants have access to a photocopier, printer or scanner so may have trouble providing a copy of their ID, said Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, who is president of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks.

“It’s unnecessary to the process,” he said. “We already have their information, and it just creates a situation where their personally identifiable information is going to accidentally get lost in the mail.”

Swope said he’s also concerned by the provision allowing poll challengers to film ballot tabulation, which he warned could lead to inadvertent exposure of what the Michigan constitution promises to be a secret ballot. 

Many of the GOP proposals stand almost no chance of becoming law because Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has promised to veto any legislation that would make it harder to vote.

Whitmer “believes our state has a duty to protect the freedom to vote in Michigan, and any piece of legislation that seeks to take away a person’s right to vote or creates barriers to voting is a non-starter,” spokesperson Bobby Leddy said in a Wednesday statement. 

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a fellow Democrat, also criticized the Senate GOP proposal, saying that everything state officials do “should be based on protecting the right to vote, and too many of these bills would do the opposite.”

The voter ID proposal appears similar to legislation introduced in other states this year following a string of false fraud claims that culminated with the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, where Trump supporters tried to block Congress from affirming President Joe Biden’s election.

As of Feb. 19, lawmakers this year had already proposed 253 bills in 43 states with provisions that would restrict voting access in some way, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

In Michigan, a group of GOP activists this week announced plans for a petition drive to tighten voting laws through legislation the GOP-led Legislature could enact without Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature.

The Rescue Michigan Coalition wants to require photo identification for all absentee ballot applications, ban absentee ballot drop boxes and require clerks to verify absentee ballot signatures in public meetings, among other things.

The Senate GOP plan, meanwhile, would require clerks to conduct more frequent death record reviews to remove deceased voters from the rolls, including at least once a week in the 45 days before an election. 

Trump and his supporters claimed dead voters cast ballots in Michigan and other states, but the only example provided in a lawsuit by his campaign was quickly debunked. The person never cast a ballot but was confused for a voter with a similar name, according to the Secretary of State.

Experts say election fraud is usually rare and was again last year. 

“The 2020 election was safe and secure, and more Michiganders voted than ever before in the history of our state,” said Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians. She  promised her group will fight “the coordinated, national effort to make it harder for voters to exercise our right to vote.”

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