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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Michigan Republicans to drop signature-matching provision in election bill

election day
Rep. Ann Bollin, R-Brighton, told Bridge Michigan she decided to drop the signature-matching requirement after talking with her Senate counterpart and hearing from clerks. (Bridge file photo)

LANSING—A proposal that would have required poll workers in Michigan to verify the signatures of every voter before casting a ballot will no longer be considered, the measure’s sponsor told Bridge Michigan Thursday.

Last month, the Republican-controlled House passed legislation along party lines that would require the Michigan Secretary of State to provide polling places access to state voter files so workers could compare signatures, a provision strongly opposed by Democrats, voting rights groups and many local clerks across the state.  

But Rep. Ann Bollin, R-Brighton, said Thursday she no longer thinks the signature-verification process is needed. 

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“I am comfortable with making the changes,” Bollin said. “The clerks during testimony brought up that they feel that it would be challenging to have the election workers also checking signatures and, as a former clerk, I highly regard what the clerk's have to say about any of the election bills.”

The signature-matching provision was added as an amendment to a bill that’s main purpose is to do away with the option of being able to vote without an ID by signing an affidavit

Michigan is one of many state legislatures controlled by Republicans to propose voting and election law changes following Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential win last November over Donald Trump. Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud fueled the spate of new laws, including in Michigan, where fraud claims have been repeatedly shown to be false, including in a recent report by Republican lawmakers.  

Bollin’s decision to drop the signature requirement comes a week after the sponsor of the measure in the Senate, Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, told reporters he disagreed with the House amendment.

“I don't think the signature should be used as the mechanism for verifying someone's identity over the photo ID,” Barrett said. “The photo ID is going to be what actually fundamentally proves your identity.”

The measure will be considered by the Senate when that chamber comes back from summer break sometime in August. Once passed, it will go back to the House for reconsideration.

Bollin, the House Republican, told Bridge Michigan she is confident the House will end up approving the final Senate version.  

But even if both chambers pass the legislation, it is guaranteed that  Whitmer will veto it. Her office has said that “any piece of legislation that seeks to take away a person’s right to vote or creates barriers to voting is a non-starter.”

Signature-matching has been a requirement in Michigan for years. But it is not enforced since 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.

Mary Clark, the Democratic clerk of Delta Township, told Bridge Michigan she was satisfied to see the signature-matching requirement dropped. She said it would put poll workers in a difficult position, since they would have to make the decision on whether to tabulate the ballot, or give the voter a provisional ballot.

“An election worker — yes, they get a token payment, but in essence they're volunteers, wanting to support the democratic process,” Clark said. “To put that pressure on them, who only do one or two elections a year, is not necessary.”

“There are other ways to verify a voter standing in front of you that does not have a picture ID.”

The signature-matching provision was added to a proposal that’s part of a 39-bill package introduced by Republicans earlier this year that seeks to significantly tighten election laws in the state. Many of the measures are similar to those introduced in Georgia, including requiring photo identification when casting a ballot.

GOP lawmakers in both the House and Senate have made a priority of requiring IDs to vote in the state, and doing away with the option to vote by signing an affidavit.

They claim the change in law would make elections more secure. In Michigan, only 0.2 percent of voters in 2020 used the affidavit option.

Republican lawmakers have cited a May survey by the Detroit Regional Chamber in which, out of 600 respondents, 79 percent said they support requiring  “every voter coming to the polls present a government issued identification to cast their ballot.”

The ID requirement legislation is opposed by Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and voting rights supporters who said bills like these amount to voter suppression. 

Clark, the clerk of Delta Township, told Bridge Michigan she worries about the long-term impact of these election bills if they were to become law.

“We have concerns that the rights of a challenger seem to be more important than the rights of a voter, and that is concerning,” Clark said. “Challengers can't have more rights than a voter. There's something wrong if that's the case.”

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