Michigan voters in November will have the final say on a ballot proposal to expand voting access in Michigan.
The four-member Board of State Canvassers on Thursday unanimously voted to send the initiative, backed by a ballot committee called Promote the Vote, to the November ballot. It will join two other statewide ballot proposals on the general election ballot.
State canvassers are set to meet again Friday to finalize the initiative’s ballot language.
“We knew we had the signatures in hand,” Todd Cook, Promote the Vote’s campaign director, told reporters after the board’s decision. “We’re happy that the Board of Canvassers has unanimously voted to certify and place this important voting rights initiative on the ballot in November.”
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The Promote the Vote proposal is an amendment to the state constitution that proponents say is designed to make access to voting easier in Michigan. Constitutional amendments, unlike citizen-initiated legislation, automatically appear on the ballot once they are certified without first going before the Legislature for possible adoption.
If passed by voters, the proposal would constitutionally enshrine straight-ticket voting and post-election audits; automatically register Michiganders to vote when they visit a Secretary of State office unless they opt out; allow more time for residents to register to vote before an election, including on Election Day; and allow a state resident to vote by absentee ballot without needing to first declare a reason.
Currently, Michigan does not require post-election audits in its constitution. They weren’t authorized in Michigan until a state law change was adopted in 2012. In a February report on election security, the Center for American Progress gave Michigan a C grade and recommended the state “adopt robust post-election audit processes that test the accuracy of election outcomes.”
Michigan has allowed voters to check one box to vote for a single party on the ballot in the past, though the Republican-led state Legislature in 2015 voted to ban so-called straight-ticket voting. A federal judge recently ruled that the ban discriminated against black voters, who tend to vote for Democratic candidates, and ordered the practice reinstated. A federal appeals court upheld the ban, however, in a ruling Wednesday.
Cook said the constitutional amendment would supersede the state law that is being challenged in federal court, though he acknowledged that an attempt to challenge the constitutionality of Promote the Vote’s straight-ticket provision could be brought later if voters adopt it.
The ballot initiative is backed by the ACLU of Michigan, the League of Women Voters, the Michigan League for Public Policy and the NAACP Michigan State Conference. It also has support from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, the Detroit Regional Chamber and other individuals and groups.
Opposition to the initiative has been quiet to date. No one spoke Thursday against certifying the proposal, though a ballot committee called Protect My Vote challenged a number of Promote the Vote’s signatures.
Protect My Vote formed Aug. 23 and lists its treasurer as Mary Doster, the wife of Okemos election law attorney Eric Doster. Mary Doster also serves as treasurer for the campaigns of Republican-backed Supreme Court justices and the nonprofit Michigan Redistricting Resource Institute, a group linked to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
Protect My Vote has not yet disclosed any campaign finance reports with the state, so it’s so far unknown who is funding the opposition effort.
A representative for the committee could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Promote the Vote submitted more than 430,000 signatures in July. As a constitutional amendment, the committee needed at least 315,654 to qualify for the ballot.
State elections administrators pulled two samples of signatures to review after an initial, smaller review of the validity of voters’ signatures was inconclusive. State canvassers ultimately certified the proposal after the second, larger sample determined Promote the Vote had obtained enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.
The ballot committee last month filed a federal lawsuit in hopes of compelling the Board of State Canvassers to quickly certify the proposal. Cook said the group’s attorneys have not yet decided how to proceed on the lawsuit, which dealt with the state’s signature review.
Promote the Vote’s voting access proposal will join two others on the Nov. 6 ballot: A legislative proposal to legalize recreational use of marijuana and a constitutional amendment to create an independent redistricting commission.
Two other ballot initiatives circulated this election cycle but will not appear on the November ballot because the Legislature voted Wednesday to adopt them: raising Michigan’s minimum wage and requiring employers to offer paid sick leave. A third, repealing Michigan’s prevailing wage statute, was adopted earlier this year.