Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas
The GOP-controlled Michigan House of Representatives voted Tuesday to pass three bills regarding voting record retention periods, qualified voter files and a ban on voting machines connecting to the internet.
The three bills are parts of a larger bill package restricting voting rights unveiled by Republicans in Michigan following the 2020 general election that former President Donald Trump lost to now-President Joe Biden. Democrats have said the bills are only stirring mistrust in the electoral process.
Michigan House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.) said the bills were “an attempt to stoke fear and paranoia” in Michiganders about the electoral system.
“We’re here today wasting our time making laws about elections that make no real changes, they just feed a lie,” Lasinski said. “Scoring cheap political points with these manufactured, divisive issues instead of doing real work on the budget to support Michigan’s small businesses and working families is disrespectful to our institution.”
House Bill 4838, introduced by Rep. Phil Green (R-Millington) prohibits voting equipment from being connected to the internet, codifying current policy, which passed 77-31.
The bill also comes as former state Sen. Pat Colbeck (R-Canton) and others pushed a conspiracy theory that Michigan voting machines were connected to the internet in the 2020 general election and helped result in Trump losing.
Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Twp.), who is running for attorney general in 2022, said the bill has garnered support from local clerks and is “uncontroversial” since it simply codifies current practice.
“We are not creating new burdens for the people of our communities who administer our elections,” Berman said. “Our local clerks and our cities and townships, they’re already following these protocols.”
House Bill 4837, introduced by Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport) prohibits third parties from accessing the qualified voter files, stating that only state and local officials are allowed access to the qualified voter file. That passed 75-33.
House Bill 4840, introduced by Ken Borton (R-Gaylord),would expand the record retention period for ballots, requiring elections clerks to hold onto paper ballots for 22 months after final and official counts are certified by the board of canvassers. The current holding period is 30 days. That passed 80-28.
Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) said the bills are “a solution in search of a problem” and only seek to diminish credibility in elections for Michiganders.
“They further feed the ‘Big Lie’ [that Trump didn’t lose in 2020] and are intended to cause confusion among voters,” Koleszar said. “As the leading democracy in the world, we have a proud history of free and fair elections. With so much important work to do, we shouldn’t be wasting time and taxpayer dollars on legislation addressing problems that don’t exist.”
The Michigan Department of State remained neutral towards the three bills as they passed through the House Committee on Elections and Ethics. Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said she’s focused on best practices to ensure the integrity of elections in Michigan.
“The 2020 election was the safest and most secure in Michigan history, and we appreciate the Legislature recognizing this by codifying three practices we were already utilizing that contributed to its success,” Benson said in a statement.
The election bills come after Michigan significantly expanded the right to vote in 2018, when over two-thirds of Michigan voters passed Proposal 3, an amendment granting no-reason absentee voting, same-day voter registration, and straight-ticket voting.
In the November 2020 election, more than 5.5 million Michiganders cast their ballot, shattering turnout records. Biden beat Trump by over 150,000 votes here.
Since Trump’s loss in 2020, Republicans in 45 states have introduced a slew of bills aiming to restrict the right to vote as part of a well-financed effort by conservative groups across the nation. The Republican National Committee and Republican State Leadership Committee have also established an “election integrity panel” following the election.
Over 250 election audits have been conducted by Benson’s office and local election clerks — all of which found no evidence of fraud or concern about the security of the 2020 election.
State Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt) also introduced a bill today making it illegal for election workers to be harrassed, intimidated or prevented from doing their job. The bill would make those actions a misdemeanor that could be punishable by 90 days in jail or a fine of $500.
A recent report by the Brennan Center found that almost one in three election officials felt unsafe while nearly one in five felt their lives endangered due to their job as an election official.
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