New constitutional amendment could nullify GOP-led efforts to restrict voting

By: - January 31, 2022 3:40 pm

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

A new ballot initiative filed with the Michigan Secretary of State Monday could nullify Republican-led efforts to restrict voting and enshrine a series of voting rights — including barring partisan interference in future elections — in the state’s constitution, election experts said Monday.

The “Promote the Vote 2022” ballot initiative would amend the state constitution to improve both security and access to the polls, including expanding early voting and allowing more time for military members to cast their ballots, voting rights leaders said at a Monday press conference. The initiative comes from Promote the Vote, the coalition behind Prop 3, a constitutional amendment Michigan voters from across the ideological spectrum passed in 2018 and which created no-reason absentee voting and same-day registration.

“Michigan voters have been clear: They want accessible and secure elections, which means being able to make their voices heard at the ballot box and being confident that their vote will be counted,” Christina Schlitt, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Michigan, said during Monday’s press conference. “This proposal takes great steps toward modernizing our elections and protecting our freedom to vote. And importantly, this proposal will ensure that elections will be determined solely by the voters of Michigan.”

The Promote the Vote initiative comes after President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Following that definitive defeat, Republican party leaders and legislators — including some who won in the 2020 election — have promoted conspiracy theories that Trump did not lose and that massive election fraud occurred. Despite there being more than 250 state and local audits demonstrating the 2020 election was secure, local, state and national Republican figures have continued to call for election “audits” and have introduced legislation restricting voting rights.

Right-wing rally calling for a so-called “audit” of the 2020 election at the Michigan Capitol, Oct. 12, 2021 | Laina G. Stebbins

These efforts, and specifically the GOP-backed “Secure MI Vote” ballot petition restricting voting, have alarmed Democratic lawmakers and voting rights activists across the state and country. 

In a one-on-one interview with Whitmer in November, the governor told the Advance that she anticipated a counter-ballot measure would be coming. 

“Every Michigander deserves the right to have their voice heard as they exercise their constitutional right to vote in a safe and secure election,” Whitmer said. “We have robust election protections in place. Strong, effective voter ID laws are on the books and they work. We just had the most secure, accessible high turnout election in our state’s history [in November 2020].”

“We’ve got to take a stand here because our democracy really is on the line,” Whitmer continued. “That’s not hyperbole. The only thing that is standing in the way of efforts to undermine our secure elections, the only thing right now, is my veto. And so we’re encouraging citizens to decline to sign any effort that makes it harder for Michiganders to vote.”

The Promote the Vote initiative would:

  • Guarantee voters nine consecutive days of early voting before an election
  • Provide state funding for prepaid postage on absentee ballots
  • Allow additional time for military and overseas voters to submit ballots
  • Allow voters to request absentee ballots for all future elections instead of having to ask for an absentee ballot before every election, as is now the case in some counties
  • Permit voters to continue to vote without identification, provided they sign an affidavit to verify their identity, as is allowed now
  • Ensure that the outcome of state elections is determined solely by the votes cast by Michigan voters by directing the state Board of Canvassers to certify election results and clearly establishing the Board of Canvassers is responsible for certifying the results of an election
  • Ban political parties from participating in post-election audits and mandate that only election officials can conduct such audits. Precinct delegates and officers from national, state and local political parties would not be allowed to conduct an audit.

If the Promote the Vote initiative garners enough signatures — about 425,000 before July 11 — to be placed on the ballot in November and is then approved by voters, it would essentially cancel the Secure MI Vote”petition. 

Even if the Secure MI Vote petition — which election experts have said could result in hundreds of Michigan cities and townships losing all or some of their polling places — is passed by the GOP-led state Legislature, it would be superseded by the Promote the Vote effort because the “Promote the Vote” initiative would result in a constitutional amendment. 

Should the GOP-backed Secure MI Vote petition garner more than 340,000 signatures, state law permits the Legislature to vote on it and also bypass a veto from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The Secure MI Vote petition would then never be brought before voters in an election. Among other voting restrictions, the GOP-backed initiative would limit clerks from utilizing nonprofit properties, such as churches and other places of worship), that were previously donated as polling spaces unless clerks paid for them. Places of worship accounted for 20% of Michigan polling sites in the 2020 election.

We can’t ignore the fact that election interference is part of our reality right now. ... We’re protecting elections in Michigan from any sort of interference that we’re seeing groups like Secure MI Vote try to do to either actually change election results for future elections or decrease people’s confidence in our election administration.

– Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians

“We can’t ignore the fact that election interference is part of our reality right now,” Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, said in an interview following Monday’s press conference. “…We’re protecting elections in Michigan from any sort of interference that we’re seeing groups like Secure MI Vote try to do to either actually change election results for future elections or decrease people’s confidence in our election administration.”

The initiative announced Monday would, if passed, go into effect for the 2023 primary election. The Secure MI Vote initiative would also go into effect by the 2023 election, unless the vote received backing from two-thirds of the state Senate — which would allow it to take immediate effect in 2022. 

The Secure MI Vote has been backed by Republicans and does not appear to have the necessary backing of two-thirds of the Senate, which is split 22-16 in the GOP’s favor.

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Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is the assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats include economic justice, health care and immigration. Previously the founder of the Muskegon Times and the editor at Rapid Growth Media in Grand Rapids, Anna has worked as an editor and reporter for news outlets across the country.