Republican legislators in Michigan are pushing to overhaul the state’s voting laws, drawing responses from local representatives that largely fall along party lines.
A package of bills introduced in the Michigan Senate last week seek to reform the election process months after claims of fraud and insecurity cropped up across the state.
Against the backdrop of a national election, the state cycled through national headlines as a series of protests, hearings and lawsuits called into questions results delayed by an election marked by the expansions of absentee voting and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Introduced by Republican senators, the 39 bills would reconfigure the election process, adding new regulations and restrictions.
Supporters of the bills claim the package is necessary to ensure elections are fair and secure. Opponents claim they may spur voter suppression.
The bills are currently in the Senate chamber. They have yet to be introduced to House lawmakers.
The Monroe News reached out to local legislators, asking them their thoughts and views on the proposed legislation. Following are those responses.
Rep. Joe Bellino, R-Monroe, said he has not had a chance to look at the package of bills.
He does believe some reform is necessary, though.
“I know changes have to be made,” he said, adding that one such change is finding a way to remove what he called “incompetent clerks.”
Rep. TC Clements, R-Temperance, said the bills will likely look different once they reach the House chamber.
“Knowing there will be changes as the bills make their way through the legislative process, it’s premature for me to take a position on the bills as they are currently written,” Clements said.
There are some aspect he does support outright, though. They include requiring a valid ID to apply for an absentee ballot and increased training proposals.
The spirit of the bills is to prevent fraud in future elections. He credits the clerks at the township and county levels in Monroe as having the highest integrity. But he is concerned about other areas of the state that drew concern from voters across Michigan.
Elections are a cornerstone of democracy, he added, saying his constituents want fair and secure elections.
“I believe the Legislature has an obligation to review the current election laws and make reforms that would help eliminate any potential fraud from our voting process,” Clements said. “I support efforts being made to protect the integrity of our elections. There is always rooms for improvement and I will work to ensure my neighbors can trust our elections.”
Rep. Darrin Camilleri, D-Brownstown, said the package of bills will make it harder for Michigan residents’ voices to be heard.
Should it be adopted, it would make it more difficult to vote absentee by imposing additional restrictions, even though studies show higher rates of absentee voting to more participating in elections, he said.
“As a whole, this package not only puts unnecessary roadblocks ahead of Michiganders’ right to vote, it actively seeks to harm our institutions by manufacturing doubt in our elections and addresses a problem that doesn’t exist,” Camilleri said.
The bills could potentially disenfranchise voters and would actually make them less fair, he added. His main concern with election integrity is the placement of unnecessary barriers to voting.
“An independent audit of the last election revealed that it was the most secure our state had ever seen, and we have no reason to believe the new so-called ‘safeguards’ in these bills are needed to carry out fair elections,” he said.
Camilleri said his district has a high turnout, and bipartisan discussions within it have not revealed widespread concern regarding election security.
Sen. Dale Zorn, R-Ida, said the package of bills are part of a comprehensive effort to improve the election process and address constituents’ concerns.
“They are the beginning of an effort to enact smart and effective solutions that will make it easier to vote, improve the security of our ballots and restore the public’s trust,” Zorn said.
Restoring such trust is a guiding factor in Zorn’s support. The reforms would provide additional security measures and further protect the right to vote, he said, adding a democracy doesn’t work without the trust of its people.
“The integrity of our elections is critical to the future of our system of government, and protecting it should be a priority of every citizen and the responsibility of every legislator,” Zorn said.
Claims that the bills make it harder to vote or may lead to disenfranchisement are false, according to Zorn. They actually expand access to voting, he countered, adding something must be done.
“The people of Monroe and Lenawee counties have been very vocal in their desire to seem sort of election reform so they can have complete confidence in the process and outcome,” he said.
Proposed changes to election law
Following is a list of some of the proposed changes within the package of bills. This is inly a partial list.
- Require drop boxes for absentee ballots to be approved by the secretary of state and the county board of canvassers. (SB 273)
- Allow those between the ages of 16 and 17½ to pre-register to vote if they meet certain conditions. (SB 274)
- Allow individuals from each political party to observe and record election audits carried out at precincts. (SB 275)
- Authorize election inspectors, challengers and poll watchers to photograph and film the tabulation of votes. (SB 276)
- Allow county clerks to flag deceased voters in the qualified voter file and require them to notify local clerks of any people who have died in the county. (SB 277)
- Require those collecting absentee ballots from drop boxes to carry ballots in approved containers and require clerks to document each time ballots are collected. (SB 278)
- Require the secretary of state to collect information from multistate programs and partnerships the secretary of state is participating in to verify voters’ addresses and registration status. (SB 281)
- Require those requesting an absentee ballot to present identification to their local clerk or attach a copy of their ID to their application. Require clerks to issue a provisional absentee ballot to those who fail to show ID. (SB 285)
- Prohibit voters from using a drop box after 5 p.m. the day before Election Day. (SB 286)
- Prohibit clerks from providing prepaid postage for absentee ballot. (SB 287)
- Require election challengers to wear an identification badge. (SB 290)
- Amend the criminal code to expand election-related felonies. (SB 291)
- Require the secretary of state to establish training for election challengers. Require challengers to be associated with a political party. (SB 292)
- Require the local board of election commissioners to strive to appoint the same number of Democratic and Republican election inspectors for every election precinct. (SB 294)
- Require at least one Republican and Democrat be present at all times during an election canvass. (SB 297)
- Extend the amount of time for an election canvass to be certified from 14 days after an election to 21 days. (SB 298)
- Require election inspectors to deliver the statement of election returns and a vote tally sheet in a sealed envelope to the local clerk by noon the day after the election. (SB 299)
- Require holding on-site early voting from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the second Saturday before any election. (SB 300)
- Create criminal violations for tampering with ballots cast early or with revealing the results from early voting. (SB 301)
- Require voter registration applications include a provision where applicants attest that they do not claim voting residence or have the right to vote in another state. (SB 302)
- Require the full text of a ballot proposal be included on absentee ballots and ballots cast in person. (SB 307)
- Mandate the secretary of state create a signature verification process and that local clerks be trained on that process. (SB 308)
- Outline rules and regulations for poll watchers and poll challengers. (SB 309)
- Prohibit the secretary of state from either mailing absentee ballot applications or posting these applications on a website. (SB 310)
- Allow active duty service members who are deployed at the time of an election to cast a ballot electronically, as long as signature verification measures are created and used. (SB 311)
— The Detroit Free Press