House Dems roll out bills expanding voting rights

GOP lawmaker calls it ‘liberal wish list’

By: - November 3, 2021 2:13 pm

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson speaks at a press conference announcing Democrats’ voting rights bill package, Nov. 3, 2021, at the Ingham County Courthouse | Laina G. Stebbins

A group of Michigan House Democrats, joined by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum and House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.), unveiled on Wednesday a package of bills aimed at expanding and protecting Michiganders’ right to vote.

The nine-bill package comes as legislative Republicans promote their own bills which they claim would make elections more secure, but would actually restrict voting access.

“Here in Michigan and across the nation, lawmakers have introduced bills to make it harder for people to vote. Denying citizens their right to vote, the most sacred foundation of our democracy, is perhaps the most un-American thing possible,” Lasinski said.

“The attacks have been relentless across the nation. But the good news is, so are we. House Democrats are committed to ensuring that every voter votes every time in every election,” she continued.

In October, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed a number of GOP election bills that she said perpetuated disinformation about the 2020 election. Republicans have now turned to a petition drive, Secure MI Vote, to go around Whitmer in their efforts. 

If the voting restriction campaign is able to gather enough signatures, the initiative will go to the GOP-led Legislature for approval before voters and Whitmer cannot veto it.

Benson, Byrum, Lasinski and Democratic state Reps. Padma Kuppa (D-Troy), Kara Hope (D-Holt), Amos O’Neal (D-Saginaw), Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp.), Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) and Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) stood before the Ingham County Courthouse in Mason to announce the bills.

Wednesday marks one year since the November 2020 election.

Not all bills have been formally introduced, but the nine-bill House package includes:

  • Require clerks to send absent voter ballot applications with postage prepaid return envelopes — along with a “know your voting rights” card — no later than 75 days before the election. This is sponsored by state Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit).
  • Require the state to reimburse county and local clerks for postage costs related to mailing absentee ballots and applications and their return envelopes. This is sponsored by state Rep. Tullio Liberati (D-Allen Park).
  • Require ballots to be counted if received within 72 hours of the election and postmarked by election day. This is sponsored by O’Neal.
  • Allow overseas military members and their spouses to submit absentee ballots electronically. This is sponsored by Kuppa.
  • Remove the current prohibition on hiring transportation to take voters to the polls. This is sponsored by Whitsett.
  • Allow absentee ballots to be processed seven days before the election. Requires notice and daily delivery of open ballots to the board of election inspectors. This is sponsored by Koleszar.
  • Allow 16 to 17½-year-olds to pre-register to vote. Once they reach 17½ years old, the clerk will transmit their registration to the master voter file. Proof of residence and proof of citizenship is required. This is sponsored by state Rep. Mari Manoogian (D-Birmingham).
  • Require one secure absentee ballot drop box per 20,000 people in each city or township. Must be emptied at least once per day. Costs will be reimbursed by the state. This is sponsored by Hope.
  • HB 4361: Require local clerks to maintain a permanent absent voter list. This is sponsored by state Rep. Haadsma (D-Battle Creek).

“There’s a lot to like about what these bills will accomplish. A particular note: In this package is the ability for local clerks to process absentee ballots ahead of election day while maintaining the safety and security of our elections,” Byrum said. “Democracy works best when more people vote. These bills will make it easier for qualified registered voters in Michigan to exercise their fundamental, constitutional right to vote.”

Benson also praised the bills, noting that much of the last year has been weighed down by efforts to fight right-wing misinformation about the election.

“We’ve seen time and time again that our voices as election administrators, the needs of our voters, have not been reflected in the policies working their way through Lansing,” Benson said. “So I’m proud that today, a year later, I can actually stand here and say that we’re finally doing just that.”

The package was well received by Voters Not Politicians (VNP), a nonpartisan advocacy group that spearheaded the 2018 redistricting commission ballot drive and now works on good government initiatives.

“We applaud the House Democrats for introducing these pro-voter bills that would help ensure that Michigan’s elections are safe, accessible, and secure,” said VNP Executive Director Nancy Wang.

“In 2018, Michigan voters made it clear that they believe every eligible voter should have convenient access to the ballot. Voters Not Politicians supports these proposed policies that would move Michigan in the right direction — forward, rather than backward — on voting rights.”

Wang added that the state Legislature should work together and pass the bills “without delay.”

But state Rep. Matt Hall (R-Marshall), who chaired the House Oversight Committee last term that held several hearings on unproven GOP voter fraud claims after former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, slammed the bill package as a “liberal wish list” to “manufacture votes” and “tamper with Michigan’s election process.”

“With this new scheme from House Democrats, we are moving further away from what people want and closer to what partisans want. That’s not the right path for the integrity of Michigan’s elections, or people on both sides who expect their elections to be fair, efficient and trustworthy,” Hall said.

Two-thirds of Michigan voters in 2018 passed Proposal 3, a sweeping voting rights constitutional amendment allowing no-reason absentee voting, same-day voter registration and more.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. 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. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).

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