Advance Notice: Briefs

MSU board pulls voter suppression resolution following GOP defunding threat

By: - September 12, 2022 4:57 am

Michigan State University | Susan J. Demas

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees postponed Friday voting on a resolution seeking to restrain the activities of university vendors connected to “voter suppression” efforts.

The resolution in question, sponsored by Democratic trustees Rema Vassar and Kelly Tebay, was in response to the Secure MI Vote initiative, which would require mandatory identification for both in-person and absentee voting, bar mass mailings of absentee ballot applications and prohibit election funding by private groups. 

While its supporters missed the deadline to get the initiative on the ballot in November, it could still be enacted by state lawmakers and is not subject to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s veto.

Titled as “Accountability of University Vendors Funding Voter Suppression,” the resolution was removed Thursday night from the board’s agenda and thus did not get a vote during the board’s meeting on Friday.

Black activists protest voting restrictions by land, air and sea at Mackinac Conference

The resolution asked all politically active vendors to take concrete steps to defeat efforts at undermining democracy.

“…[I]ncluding reaching out to lawmakers with which they have relationships with to communicate the importance of opposing voter suppression legislation, and ultimately to align their political support (including financial contributions) of candidates and office holders with their professed values, providing that those values support free and fair access to the democratic process,” stated the resolution.

The issue originally came up at a June meeting of the board, which has a 5-3 Democratic majority, after the Defend Black Voters coalition (DBV) called out university vendors including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) and Delta Dental of Michigan (Delta Dental) for their political contributions.

According to a DBV press release, since 2021 BCBSM and Delta Dental gave $10,000 and $4,000 respectively to leadership PACs controlled by Michigan Senate Majority leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake). 

“The two companies (including affiliated entities) have given $313,250 to the Michigan Senate Republican Campaign Committee that Sen. Shirkey now oversees since the 2016 cycle, including $38,750 in the first half of 2022,” said the release.

Shirkey, who has been an outspoken supporter of the Secure MI Vote initiative, was quoted by the Detroit News as threatening MSU’s funding if the resolution passed.

“I will not let this stand,” said Shirkey. “This will cause us to immediately reevaluate the legitimacy of this university and its board of trustees. We are not going to take this lying down. The budget is an impactful process. This is why public universities should be defunded.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), April 20, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

In response, Democratic Trustee Brianna Scott registered strong dissatisfaction with the decision to pull the resolution from the agenda.

“It’s just disgusting to me that the agenda item was removed today. It is distressing to me that we weren’t able to move forward,” said Scott. “I think that it is right for us to discourage people from purposely doing anything to impede the ability of Black and Brown voters to vote, which is their constitutional right.”

Vassar, a strong supporter of the resolution, responded directly to the defunding threat made by Shirkey.

“Throughout the history of Black voter suppression, there’s also a constant threat of harm to those who have fought for freedom and fair access to the ballot,” said Vassar. “There have been beatings, lynchings, massacres, and now, threats to eliminate funding to MSU. It’s abhorrent.”

Board Chair Dianne Byrum, a Democrat, said the decision to pull the resolution was made in order to avoid the issue becoming overly partisan. However, that shouldn’t be interpreted as a lack of support for all citizens enjoying full voting rights, she said.

“Removing the resolution today does not take away — for even a second — our passion and support for equal access to the ballot by all citizens, particularly our students, and Black, Brown and working-class individuals and families,” said Byrum, a former legislative leader.

In other news, the Detroit Free Press reported Sunday that the board has given MSU President Samuel Stanley until Tuesday to resign, reportedly regarding his handling of handling of the investigation of business school dean Sanjay Gupta, who resigned in August.

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King is the Senior Reporter for the Michigan Advance and has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2022 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell.