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Michigan GOP voting plan has much in common with Georgia law. How they compare

michigan election day
Michigan experienced a surge in absentee voting in the November election, and a Republican proposal would place restrictions on ballot drop boxes and require voters to have an ID to cast a ballot. (Bridge file photo)

July 8: Michigan Republicans to drop signature-matching provision in election bill
June 23: GOP investigation finds no Michigan vote fraud, deems many claims ‘ludicrous’

LANSING — Legislation to overhaul election rules in Michigan shares common characteristics — but a few differences — with a controversial new Georgia law that has sparked a national backlash and claims of voter suppression.

Like Georgia, the Michigan bills propose strict voter identification requirements and new rules for absentee ballot drop boxes that could make it harder for many to vote. 

But the 39-bill legislation includes several unique provisions, and it does not include some of the most criticized aspects of the Georgia law, such as a ban on free water for voters waiting in line.  

Related:

Republicans nationwide are racing to tighten voting laws following a presidential election loss marked by false claims of fraud from former President Donald Trump and his supporters, including some Michigan lawmakers.

Through the first three months of 2021, legislators in 47 states had introduced a combined 361 bills with provisions that could make it harder to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

Among states with divided governments, Michigan is unique because the state constitution includes a mechanism that could allow the Republican-led Legislature to bypass vetoes promised by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.  

The Michigan Republican Party is planning a petition drive to do just that, Chair Ron Weiser said, setting the stage for a battle over election reform bills introduced last month in the state Senate. 

Here’s a look at how the Michigan legislation, as introduced but still subject to potential amendment, compares to the new Georgia voting law.

The Georgia law and the Michigan proposals both: 

  • Require voter ID for both in-person and absentee voters: The Georgia law requires voters to print their driver license or ID number on their absentee ballot application. The Michigan proposal would require applicants to include a photocopy of their ID when requesting an absentee ballot by mail. The Michigan law would also tighten in-person voter ID options to eliminate the option for voters without ID to instead sign an affidavit of identity. 
  • Make it illegal for election officials to mail absentee ballot applications to all voters: When the pandemic hit last year, Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Michigan Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson mailed absentee ballot applications to every voter in the state ahead of the primary. Both states recorded record turnout. The Michigan legislation which would ban the practice, likely means some voters will surely not request absentee ballots for the next statewide election.  
  • Do little to speed up vote counting: The Georgia law will allow clerks to begin processing ballots — but not count them — three weeks before an election. The Michigan proposal would let processing start one-day early, which was allowed for the first time last year. That means absentee ballot counting in Michigan and Georgia could again lead to lengthy results reporting delays, giving candidates like Trump a window to declare premature victory and contest legitimate ballots counted later. In contrast, Florida allows clerks to count absentee ballots weeks in advance.
  • Prohibit election officials from accepting third-party funding: Like the Georgia law, the Michigan proposal would bar state, county or local clerks from accepting any election administration grants from private organizations. It’s a response to COVID-19 grants provided by the Center for Tech and Civil Life after a $250 million contribution from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. His involvement fueled right-wing conspiracy theories of election manipulation and lawsuits alleging the group directed grants to Democratic cities, even though many Republican-led cities also got grants in Michigan and other parts of the country. 
  • Limit absentee drop box usage: The Georgia law will limit the number of absentee ballot drop boxes that local officials could make available, depending on the number of local voters. The Michigan proposal doesn’t do that explicitly, but it includes a mechanism that could allow partisan election officials to block drop boxes at the county level and would require clerks to prevent use after 5 p.m. on the day before an election. 
  • Expand early voting: The Georgia law expands early voting opportunities by requiring local clerks to open for early voting on two Saturdays before Election Day, makes early voting optional on the two Sundays before an election but prohibits counties from allowing early voting on other days. The Michigan proposal would establish a new, single statewide early voting day on the second Saturday before an election. Michigan voters can already effectively vote early by casting an absentee ballot in-person at clerks offices, which are required to be open at least eight hours the weekend before the election. 

Unlike Georgia, the Michigan proposal would not:

  • Prohibit free water or food to voters waiting in line: The Georgia law would make it a misdemeanor to provide free water or food to voters within 150 feet of a polling place, or within 25 feet of any line outside that polling place. The Michigan proposal does not include any similar restrictions. 
  • Limit mobile voter centers: The Georgia law would prohibit local election officials from using recreation vehicles as mobile voting centers unless the governor declares an emergency. Michigan allows clerks to open temporary satellite offices ahead of an election, and the new Senate GOP proposal would not change that. 
  • Empower the GOP-led Legislature to suspend local election officials: In what has been described as a power play move, the Georgia law allows the State Election Board to suspend county or municipal election officials for “nonfeasance, malfeasance or gross negligence.” The board, controlled by Republicans, could appoint a temporary replacement to run local elections. 

Unlike Georgia, the Michigan proposal would: 

  • Bar pre-paid return postage for absentee ballots: Voters who want to cast their ballot by mail would have to find and pay for a stamp under the Michigan proposal, which would prohibit local governments from supplying absentee voters with pre-paid return envelopes. Some local governments have provided free postage, and others have not, which Republicans contend has created an uneven playing field.  
  • Add, allow video surveillance: The Michigan plan would require local clerks to monitor every absentee ballot drop in the state with high-definition video cameras. It would also allow political party poll challengers to film ballot tabulation inside polling places, a transparency provision that clerks say could intimidate voters and jeopardize their right to a secret ballot. 
  • Ban nonpartisan poll challengers: The Michigan proposal would ban nonpartisan poll challengers who are currently allowed to monitor the ballot counting process to guard “against the abuse of the elective franchise.” Under the Senate GOP plan, only political parties could designate challengers. Nonpartisan groups like the League of Women Voters of Michigan could not. 
  • Let 16-year-olds pre-register to vote: The Michigan legislation would allow 16-year-old citizens issued a driver’s license to pre-register to vote when they turn 18. 
  • Require voters get the full text of any ballot proposal: The Michigan legislation would require election officials to provide every in-person and absentee voter with the full text of any proposal that qualifies for the ballot. It does not specify whether the full text must appear on the ballot itself, which could lead to very long ballots, or if it must be provided separately at the polling place or through mail. 
  • Require more consensus to certify some elections: The Michigan plan would increase the size of canvassing boards in counties with more than 200,000 residents, from the current four members to either six or eight members. The panels would still be evenly split along party lines, but certifying an election would require support from at least two members of each political party, instead of one under current law. Seven of the nine counties of that size in Michigan favored Democrats in 2020, and the bill could make it easier for a holdout canvasser to block election results.
  • Create a new election results deadline: The Michigan proposal wouldn’t give clerks any more time to count ballots, but it would require them to deliver results to the county by noon on the day after an election. Last year, larger and more Democratic cities like Detroit, Grand Rapids and Flint hadn’t finished counting absentee ballots by that time, and the legislation could lead to litigation over the status of ballots not counted by that deadline, potentially disenfranchising voters. The bill doesn’t give a penalty for missed deadlines.

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