Voting rights groups organize against GOP ballot measure at farmers markets, community events

Advocates call it a ‘vehicle for perpetuating the Big Lie’ 

By: - October 25, 2021 3:22 am

Ralph Freso/Getty Images

As a controversial, Republican-led petition to restrict voting access has begun collecting signatures, groups opposing the “Secure MI Vote” initiative have ramped up efforts to rally people against signing the petition. 

Opposition groups have even launched information campaigns to fight what voting rights advocate Nancy Wang called a “vehicle for perpetuating the Big Lie” that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election. In reality, President Joe Biden won Michigan by more than 154,000 votes, he had a 7 million vote victory nationally and he won the Electoral College 306-232.

Wang is executive director of Voters Not Politicians, which spearheaded the 2018 constitutional amendment establishing a nonpartisan redistricting panel and now pushes for political reform in Michigan. She said the petition is “going to prevent people from voting,” “manipulate our processes” and “cut people out of our democracy.” 

Nancy Wang of Voters Not Politicians | Claire Moore

“At the same time that we’re doing the legislative work, we’re also organizing our volunteers to go out into the communities where we’re seeing these petitions being circulated,” Wang said. “We’re going to farmers markets and other community events, and we’re combating their misinformation by distributing our own literature and talking with voters about what this petition is really about. It’s not about voter security. It’s not about integrity. But it’s actually to suppress the vote and to make it harder for everyone to vote absentee.”

The petition was launched after Republican lawmakers introduced dozens of bills restricting voting, but many of them have been vetoed by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

However, the ballot initiative allows Republicans to avoid Whitmer’s veto. The Michigan Constitution allows the Legislature to approve a law if just 8%, or over 340,000 voters, sign a citizen petition generating a ballot measure. If a majority of the GOP-controlled Legislature votes for the petition, it does not go to voters and the governor has no veto power.

The Secure MI Vote petition currently has six months to collect the minimum requirement of signatures before allowing lawmakers to vote on it. 

The campaign did not respond to requests for comment for the story. After the Board of State Canvassers approved the petition’s language earlier this month, spokesperson Jamie Roe noted in a press release that the initiative can go into law without the governor’s signature.

“Our army of volunteers has been growing since we announced this effort, and today they begin the important work of engaging with fellow citizens across the state in exercising this important right guaranteed to them by the Michigan Constitution,” Roe said.

The petition would enforce strict photo ID requirements on voters who go in-person to cast a ballot at the polling station or by absentee ballot. The secretary of state and local clerks would be barred from sending unsolicited absentee ballots. In the 2020 general election, about 3.3. million voters cast absentee ballots. 

The initiative would also institute requirements for absentee voters to submit a photocopy of their driver’s license, state ID or last four digits of their Social Security number in order to request an absentee ballot, which opponents say could make people vulnerable to identity fraud. 

If a voter casts a ballot at the polling station, they would be required to present their driver license or state ID. Michigan voters are currently required to sign an affidavit affirming their identity if they do not present a photo ID at the polling station. Under the initiative, voters would be given a provisional ballot in place of signing an affidavit. Voters would then have to present their ID to their local clerk’s office within six days after the election. 

We're going to farmers markets and other community events, and we're combating their misinformation by distributing our own literature and talking with voters about what this petition is really about. It's not about voter security. It's not about integrity. But it's actually to suppress the vote and to make it harder for everyone to vote absentee.

– Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians

Sam Inglot, deputy communications director at Progress Michigan, said the ballot initiative is an “anti-voter” petition and “will put up barriers between people and their right to vote.”

“This petition is very broad in scope,” Inglot said. “It affects everything from Election Day voting options, to resources for clerks, to how people access the ballots, and we’re really concerned about a lot of the misinformation that’s flying around from the backers of this petition. We want to make sure that folks fully understand exactly how communities across Michigan will be negatively impacted by it.”

Inglot said his organization will continue to assist with communications efforts as community organizing groups work against the ballot initiative. 

“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to protect the progress that we’ve made, and continue to protect people’s right to vote,” Inglot said. “The fact of the matter is… people are going to be disenfranchised if this petition passes.” 

The ballot initiative comes after Michigan took significant steps to expand voting rights in 2018 when over two-thirds of Michigan voters cast ballots to pass Proposal 3, a constitutional amendment permitting no-reason absentee voting, same-day voter registration, straight-ticket voting and more. 

Sharon Dolente worked on that effort and is now senior adviser with Promote the Vote Michigan, a coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to improving people’s involvement in democracy. She said the GOP ballot initiative is “not going to create a voting system that works for all of us, and it’s not going to make elections any more secure.” 

“The voters in Michigan across all of the political spectrum, geography of our state, race and religion and income want a voting system that works for everyone,” Dolente said. “Secure MI vote would move us backwards. [It] would make it less accessible to vote in the state of Michigan, when we’ve done so much work to make it more accessible.” 

Voting rights advocates told the Advance there are currently no efforts for a counter-ballot initiative or one to remove the constitutional provision allowing for the Legislature to bypass voters and the governor on citizen-led petitions. 

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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.

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