GOP pushes bills to restrict the use of ballot boxes on Election Day

By: - May 6, 2021 5:59 am

Drop box for absentee ballots in Detroit | Ken Coleman

The state Senate Elections Committee took up a number of bills Wednesday centered around ballot drop boxes, including bills that would cut back the hours ballots can be dropped off on Election Day and require video surveillance of drop boxes.

One of the most controversial bills on the table at Wednesday’s meeting was Senate Bill 286, introduced by Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan). 

The bill initially proposed stopping voting through drop boxes at 5 p.m. on the day before Election Day. McBroom offered a change to the bill that would extend the proposed deadline to 5 p.m. on Election Day. 

Under current law, voters are allowed to vote by drop box until 8 p.m. on Election Day.

McBroom said the legislation would relieve “substantial burden” on election clerks, specifically noting that the TCF Center in Detroit had thousands of absentee ballots that came from ballot boxes and needed to be counted after 8 p.m. on the day of the Nov. 3 general election.

Merissa Kovach, a policy strategist of the ACLU, said the proposed legislation “could be the difference between being able to vote or not vote.”

This legislation is only a small part of a much larger initiative to tighten voting accessibility in Michigan. 

In March, Republicans in the Legislature rolled out a 39-bill package that would restrict voters’ rights in Michigan by banning unsolicited mass mailing of absentee ballot applications, prohibiting pre-paid postage on absentee ballot envelopes for absentee ballots, requiring a photo ID and limiting ballot drop box use. 

This follows months of debate after the presidential election when Republican leaders, both nationally and in Michigan, spread false information about the security of the election and sowed doubt in the results of the election, which now-President Joe Biden won. 

“I understand these bills are part of a legislative package some legislators claim is necessary to restore faith in our elections – faith damaged solely by lies fed to voters throughout the country about the security of the 2020 election,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, wrote in a testimony to the committee.

Michigan voters in recent years have made it clear that they support an expansion of voting rights.

In 2018, more than two-thirds of Michigan voters passed Proposal 3, a constitutional amendment that allows for no-reason absentee voting, same-day voter registration, straight-ticket voting and more.

Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Groveland Twp.), the former Secretary of State from 2011 to 2019, said the proposed bills will “make it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” but Benson said the bills discussed Wednesday would do the opposite.

The committee also discussed Senate Bill 273, introduced by Johnson, which would require municipalities to use a video surveillance system to monitor all drop boxes. 

Delta Township Clerk Mary Clark said she supports this bill in part, but says that it can’t be done without funding. 

“[Some small jurisdictions] are in rural communities and funding for a camera system and the retention of that is out of their reach,” Clark said. “And they feel, and I understand and respect their feelings, that they are being in some way punished for being small because they struggle with some of the financial things that are being presented in these bill packages.”

Benson called the proposed security measures “unnecessary, impractical and cost-prohibitive.”

The committee didn’t take any action on the bills discussed Wednesday, but it is expected to hold more meetings in the coming weeks to discuss the rest of the large election reform package. 

If Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoes any of the bills passed by the legislature, state GOP leaders have suggested they will start a petition initiative to turn them into law. 

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8.