Senate Dems slam GOP election bills for enshrining ‘lies into law’

By: - September 30, 2021 2:32 pm

Pro-Trump protesters at TCF Center in Detroit | Ken Coleman photo

Four GOP bills passed by the Michigan Senate again sparked 2020 election-related debate across party lines Thursday, as Democrats argued the legislation would enshrine “lies into law” by targeting non-issues within Michigan’s election system.

“I think these types of bills are a sign of a do-nothing Legislature that pats itself on the back for doing nothing,” state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) said.

All four bills — House Bills 4528, 4837, 4838 and 4492 — passed along near-party-line votes of 21-15. State Sen. Paul Wojno (D-Warren), previously a local clerk before serving in the Legislature, was the sole Democrat to vote with Republicans.

Sen. Jeremy Moss, January 2019 | Susan J. Demas

HB 4838, introduced by state Rep. Phil Green (R-Millington), prompted the most debate. Both Moss and state Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) spoke against the legislation, which would prohibit internet access to voting machines.

This is already current practice; connection of Michigan’s electronic voting system and electronic poll book to the internet on election day is prohibited. However, Republicans like former state Sen. Pat Colbeck (R-Canton) have claimed, without evidence, that this happened in November 2020 and contributed to former President Donald Trump’s loss in Michigan.

“We should be thankful for our election administrators for following the law as it is written, and there’s no need to fill in any gaps here with conspiracy theories that would otherwise dictate that our elections were insecure,” Moss said.

Moss and McMorrow both noted that the GOP-led Senate Oversight Committee election report had specifically debunked false claims and conspiracy theories regarding internet connectivity and voting machines in 2020.

That 35-page report released in June by Chair Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) had concluded there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Michigan.

The report sparked backlash from Trump, as well Colbeck, who both accused the GOP senators on the committee of going against their own party and attempting to “hide the truth” about the 2020 election.

Moss and McMorrow said Green’s bill is “dangerous” because it again props up conspiracy theories and insinuates that Michigan’s election system is plagued by criminal activity. Moss also called out Colbeck by name for attempting to fundraise off the claims of election fraud.

“If we vote in favor of a bill to ban something that already does not exist, it validates that lie’s existence,” McMorrow said.

State Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Groveland Twp.), a former Michigan secretary of state, pushed back against Moss and McMorrow by insinuating that her successor, Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, detrimentally loosened the department’s best practices for elections.

“The verification is not what it used to be,” Johnson said. “… It’s a good idea to take this bill, and take the best practices and put them into law, so they can’t be changed,” Johnson said.

Sen. Ruth Johnson at the State of the State address, Jan. 29, 2020 | Andrew Roth

Johnson has endorsed the Republicans’ Secure MI Vote ballot measure that includes many of the controversial voting restrictions part of the legislative package that Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to veto if they hit her desk. However, if the group gathers enough signatures, the initiative first goes to the GOP-controlled Legislature for approval. And Whitmer has no power to veto that.

HB 4492, a GOP bill to expand polling place locations, also saw some partisan debate. State Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) argued that since the language in the legislation is so broad, it could potentially become “a vector for additional political corruption, or at least the appearance thereof.”

Irwin said he is concerned that the legislation does not protect against political donors renting out polling locations and other possible practices that could harm the process.

“This could also be used to set up polling locations in places that are particularly unwelcoming to people in line with the political donor history of the owner of that property,” Irwin said.

“I appreciate the need, but I don’t think that enough attention was paid to preventing corruption and this legislation,” he added.

House Bills 4528 and 4837 were not specifically called out by Democrats but were voted against by all but Wojno. HB 4528 would establish further training requirements for election challengers; HB 4837 would prohibit organizations and non-accredited election officials from accessing qualified voter files.

None of the four bills were granted immediate effect on Thursday. They will next head to the state House for final consideration.


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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.