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Voters Not Politicians slams Secure MI Vote over signature gathering

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Michigan is one of two states that allow the Legislature to adopt ballot proposals with enough signatures into law and bypass the governor. (Shutterstock)

KALAMAZOO — Voters Not Politicians on Thursday shared a video of a petitioner misleading voters while collecting signatures for controversial petitions to tighten state laws on absentee voting and limit state departments’ emergency powers. 

A Kalamazoo volunteer for the so-called “pro-democracy” nonprofit shared a video of a paid petitioner asking voters for signatures supporting petitions including Secure MI Vote, Unlock Michigan and Let MI Kids Learn.

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In the video, the volunteer approaches the petitioner who gives him inaccurate information regarding the proposals, claiming that signing the petitions would support measures that would stop the spread of COVID-19.

The petitioner explained that Secure MI Vote would require two forms of proof of a valid signature before voting. In actuality, the proposal would require voters to provide a valid state ID, prevent election clerks from accepting non-government donations and end a sworn affidavit option for voters without ID.

About the petition

Secure MI Vote is a petition drive to change Michigan election laws. Here is a summary of the petition that was approved by the state Board of Canvassers:

Initiation of legislation amending the Michigan Election Law... to require partial social security number for voter registration; require photo ID for in-person voters; require driver's license, state-ID, partisan social security number or photo ID on absentee ballot application; require voters who don't provide this ID to present ID in person within 6 days after election to have their vote counted; provide state-funded IDs to applicants with hardships; specify minimum times clerks must accept absentee ballots for in-person or dropbox delivery; prohibit officials from making absentee ballot applications available except upon voter request; prohibit donations to fund elections.

Unlock Michigan would revoke state departments’ emergency powers, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration used to limit business gatherings during the pandemic. The Let MI Kids Learn petition would authorize tax credits for people who contribute to certain scholarships that can be used for private school tuitions.

To become law, all of the petitions would require 340,000 signatures, or 8 percent of the voter turnout in the last gubernatorial election. If petitioners collect enough signatures, Michigan is one of two states that allow the Legislature to adopt proposals into law and bypass the governor. 

Jamie Roe, spokesperson for the Secure MI Vote, said he cannot confirm whether the petitioner works for his organization because he did not watch the video, but “he very well could.”

“We don’t have to be dishonest to get people to sign our petition,” Roe said. “Every circulator is trained in exactly what the petition process is. We have thousands of petitioners across the state and we believe they are doing a great job communicating what our petition does to the voters.”

Michigan is one of 26 states that allow citizen-led ballot initiatives to become state law. According to the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity, nonprofits that promote government transparency, Michigan doesn’t prohibit petitioners from lying about the contents of their proposals. 

Anti-democratic or needed reform?

Nancy Wang, director of Voters Not Politicians, said the organization shared the video to raise awareness because she believes the Secure MI Vote petition is a way of suppressing voters and is not supported by the overwhelming majority of Michiganders.

Sponsor

“It's an anti-democratic way to pass measures that enjoy no popular support, and that would be vetoed by the governor — but it's that much worse when the people that are going to provide those signatures are being lied to about what they're signing,” said Wang, whose nonprofit was behind the 2018 ballot measure to create a citizens panel to redraw legislative districts every 10 years.

Polling in the past year has indicated support for some of the ballot measure’s proposed changes: A June survey from the Detroit Regional Chamber found 80 percent support requirements to show ID to vote, while 51 percent favored laws requiring ID for absentee voting.

Secure MI Vote is a Republican petition drive launched in October 2021. Besides voter ID, it would also bar clerks from accepting donations or volunteers assistance to run elections from people or non-governmental organizations. 

The measure was in response to donations last year to “COVID-19 response grants” to municipalities nationwide from  The Center for Tech and Civic Life, a Chicago-based nonprofit funded by $350 million from Facebook CEO  Mark Zuckerberg.

In all, 465 Michigan cities, townships and counties received the grants and used them to help fund elections. But Republicans complained that the largest ones went to Democratic cities like Detroit, which got $3.5 million, and Flint, which received $475,625.

The ballot measure’s prohibition on outside support would also bar election clerks from accepting donated space for use as polling places, including churches and recreational facilities. Churches accounted for 15 percent of the state’s voting centers in 2020, Bridge has reported. 

Critics of the proposal, such as election clerks, say the measure would disrupt the already under-funded election process while supporters regard it as a safeguard to deter corporate influence.

Accountability or unfair scrutiny?

Wang said the 2020 election was the safest and most secure in the nation’s history, more than 250 audits conducted after the election verified Michigan’s results. 

A state Senate Oversight Committee investigation into Michigan’s 2020 election, led by Republicans, concluded there was no widespread fraud, but still recommended reform measures it claimed would make elections more secure.

Sponsor

Wang said she wants Secure MI Vote sponsors of the campaign to take accountability for their petitioners and stop them from lying to obtain signatures. 

“This dishonest campaign is funded by the same leaders who preach integrity in our elections, and is a pattern of deception that can be found in states across the country where voter suppression is rampant and absentee voting rights are at risk,” Wang said.

Roe said Voters Not Politicians is “scrutinizing its petitioners and it’s ludicrous.” He is confident his organization will gather the signatures needed to get the proposal passed. 

“They can keep their criticism of what we’re doing and we’re very comfortable that our circulators are telling the truth,” Roe said. 

“A majority of people in this state support the central idea that you have to show a valid government-issued photo ID before you vote. That is the centerpiece of what we do and the centerpiece of our message.”

Editor's note: This story was updated at 11:04 a.m. Jan. 28 to correct the affiliation of Jamie Roe. He is spokesperson for Secure MI Vote. 

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