Michigan House approves voter ID bill, adds signature-matching provision
LANSING— Michigan residents not only would need ID to vote, but poll workers would be required to verify the signature of voters for the ballots to count, under a plan approved Wednesday by lawmakers.
The Republican-controlled House passed legislation 58-52 that does away with Michigan’s options to vote without ID by signing an affidavit, and also requires the state to provide polling places access to state voter files so workers can compare signatures.
If signatures don’t match, voters would cast a provisional ballot and then confirm their identity to local clerks within six days of the election. The vote would only count if local clerks then sent the ballot to the county Board of Canvassers within seven days of the election.
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“I do not want to limit access to the ballot box for any voter in the state of Michigan,” committee chair Ann Bollin, R-Brighton Township, told reporters.
“My goal is that every eligible voter is able to vote freely, secretly, independently and securely, and I think that this bill moves in that direction.”
Critics say the measure amounts to voter suppression.
“Some of the things that are being proposed set the tone for voters never to go back to the polls,” said Mary Clark, president of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks.
The legislation now returns to the Senate, which approved a similar measure, to iron out some differences in the bills before going to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Her veto is all but certain, but Republican lawmakers intend to back a ballot drive that would allow them to enact the measure into law if supporters gather 340,000 signatures. The state constitution prohibits the governor from vetoing resident-initiated legislation approved by the Legislature.
Voting without an ID is rare in Michigan — records analyzed by Bridge Michigan found only 0.2 percent of votes last year, or 11,400, did so.
But those voters are disproportionately in communities of color such as Detroit, and opponents of the strict voter ID laws say they could disenfranchise voters. Some studies estimate as many as 13 percent of African-American residents nationwide lack a government-issued ID.
In all, 36 states require identification to vote, and polls indicate a wide majority of voters support the mandate. Critics say it amounts to voter suppression, and the ID requirement is perhaps the most controversial of a 39-bill package of election reforms from Michigan Republicans.
Many of the proposals are similar to those proposed and passed in other states with GOP-led legislatures — and follow unfounded allegations of voter fraud by former President Donald Trump and his supporters.
On Wednesday, the Senate Oversight Committee released a Michigan 2020 election report that found “no evidence of widespread or systematic fraud.”
Michigan has had a signature-matching requirement for years. But it hasn’t been enforced because not all precincts have had access to the state’s master list of eligible voters and signatures aren’t uploaded to the electronic poll books— the system used to process voters in precincts.
The House bill makes some changes to measures approved by the Senate and includes a requirement that the Michigan Secretary of State give free state IDs to those who don’t have one.
The legislation included $1 million to fund updates to electronic poll books and pay for IDs.
Bollin said that would help ensure that “people across the state are not hindered to voice their vote."
Adam Reames, the legislative policy director at the Secretary of State, told lawmakers the system in place works, and that implementing a signature-matching requirement would require training for workers who are often temporary.
“There's also a risk here that even with that we would see some uneven or unequal allocation of the rules and a possible due process violation, if such a signature verification system was not applied equally,” Reames said.
While the House moved on the voter ID crackdown, a reform passed by the Senate appears to be stalling in the House.
Senate Bill 285 would require voters requesting an absentee ballot to provide on the application the number of their driver license or state ID, last four digits of their Social Security number, or submit an original or copy of their ID.
Bollin told reporters that she had some concerns that the bill would make it harder for seniors and military members to vote. She added that she has a “lot of concern” about requiring voters to provide part of their Social Security number.
The bill’s Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton Township, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
She has said that “requiring certification verification is a simple but critical step to ensure the integrity of our election process moving forward.”
“It's not creating a personal security risk. It's not voter suppression, it's not an undue burden,” Theis said last week.
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