AG warns GOP absentee voting bill could increase identity theft

By: - May 27, 2021 9:10 am

Voting drop box in Meridian Township | Joe DiSano

A Michigan Senate committee on Wednesday continued its discussion on a GOP-sponsored voting restriction package that has been widely criticized by voting rights activists and Democratic officials. During the nearly five-hour meeting, the body adopted substitutes in the case of two bills after hearing concerns that they were too extreme. However, it did not advance any of the bills to the full Senate for consideration. 

Included in the 39-bill set of measures unveiled in March is legislation that would ban unsolicited mass mailing of absentee ballot applications, prohibit pre-paid postage on absentee ballot envelopes for absentee ballots, require a photo ID, curb the hours people could drop off their ballots in boxes and require video surveillance of such drop boxes.

In 2018, Michigan enacted a constitutional amendment expanding voting rights. More than two-thirds of Michigan voters passed Proposal 3, which allows for no-reason absentee voting, same-day voter registration, straight-ticket voting and more. Michigan saw record turnout in the 2020 presidential election.

This year, hundreds of similar voter restriction bills have been introduced — and in some cases, signed into law — in states across the country after former President Donald Trump and other Republicans have circulated baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

Immediately before the 2 p.m. Senate committee meeting, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel held a virtual press conference. Benson described the package as “poorly written” and an “overreach.” State election audits have been completed and have shown no evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

“Let’s be clear, Michigan’s elections are already among the most secure and accessible in the country. Our current ID laws work, and are part of a robust system to ensure that only eligible citizens are able to cast ballots in our elections,” said Benson. “There is absolutely no evidence that this legislation would build on those current security protocols to increase the integrity of the system. But there is considerable evidence that it would make it more difficult for eligible citizens to vote.”           

Benson this week also  blasted Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo) for using official resources that are funded by taxpayers to send out a political piece.

“Wherein a Michigan state senator sends out a mailing with govt funds misrepresenting several election bills yet bragging about SB299 b/c it mandates clerks stop the tabulation of ballots by noon the day after an election – even if they haven’t finished counting every valid vote,” she tweeted.

Bumstead did not respond to the Advance’s request for comment.

The three Republican, one Democratic-member Senate committee discussed several bills and made changes to two of them.

Senate Bill 285, as introduced by Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton), would have required individuals to present photo ID with their absentee ballot application. If they didn’t, they would instead be given a provisional ballot and have to prove their identity after. 

However, a substitute adopted by the Senate committee would require absentee ballot applicants to include their driver license number, the last four digits of their Social Security number, their official state identification number or submit a copy of identification.

Nessel said that Senate Bill 285 would expose voters to identity theft by suggesting they include a photocopy of their identification when mailing their absentee ballot request form.

“Even with the latest substitute, voters are asked to open themselves up for identity theft by mailing certain personal information to secure an absentee ballot. The bill is looking to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and instead puts forth an obstacle that asks Michigan voters to make themselves vulnerable in order to vote,” said Nessel. “My department investigated multiple claims of voter fraud and even charged individuals with crimes for attempting to commit voter fraud during the 2020 election. Ultimately, we never found evidence of fraud that would have impacted its outcome.”

She also questioned whether several of the bills are constitutional. 

Senate Bill 310, as introduced by Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly), would prohibit the secretary of state from sending or providing absent voter ballot applications to voters. 

The substitute adopted added language that would be the case “unless an elector requests that the secretary of state mail an absent voter ballot application to that elector, the secretary of state is prohibited from mailing an absent voter ballot application to an elector. This subsection does not prohibit the secretary of state from including a direct link to an absent voter ballot application on the department of state website.”

GOP activist Linda Lee Tarver testified before the committee in support of Senate Bills 285 and 303. She also testified last week.

“No ID, no ballot,” she said. 

However, Aghogho Edevbie, Voting is Local Michigan state director, said, “Michigan already has a voter ID law that works, and there are other safeguards, like signature matching, that ensure the integrity of your ballot.”  

Edevbie added that Senate Bill 310 “puts the burden on local communities alone to meet the increased demand for absentee ballots.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.