Michigan may soon repeal ban on paid rides to election polls
- Michigan Democrats back repeal of ban on hiring transportation for other voters on Election Day
- Advocates argue the law is a barrier to voting access, while supporters claim it prevents voter intimidation
- The bill will soon go to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is expected to sign the repeal
After years of legal disputes, a longstanding ban on offering paid rides to the polls for voters may soon end in Michigan.
Voting along party lines, the Michigan Senate on Tuesday passed a House bill repealing a ban on hiring drivers to escort voters to polling places unless they are physically unable to walk. The bill will soon head to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who likely will back the repeal.
The existing ban is an 1895 law believed to be the only one of its kind left in the country. Ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft have cited the law for not offering discounted rides to polls, as the companies do in other states.
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Groups or individuals could face a misdemeanor for hiring a “carriage or other conveyance” to bring able-bodied voters to Michigan polling places under the current ban, meaning they can’t pay for cars or buses to take voters to their precincts.
The law does not prohibit churches, businesses or voter advocacy groups from offering rides for free if drivers are volunteers, but voting activists say the law remains a barrier to helping those with mobility issues get to the polls.
Legislative Republicans unsuccessfully pushed for the legislation to include restrictions on displaying political materials in rides and language drivers could tell riders.
“The potential of abuse for this situation continues to exist,” Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, said in a Senate floor speech.
“We're setting something up that could literally have the candidate themselves on the bus, having paid for the bus, and saying, ‘When you get on my bus, I'm gonna give you a campaign speech the whole way there.’”
Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, countered that voters who take free riders can still make their own choices inside voting booths.
“Nobody is compelled to take a ride to the poll, it is their own volition to do so,” he said. “All of us going into a poll are doing it because it's our duty and our right, but it is a choice to take a ride to the poll, and I think conflating the two together doesn't make much sense.”
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