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Time to speak out on proposed voting bills

With a major election looming in 2022, Republican lawmakers in the state Senate have introduced a 39-bill package of legislation to make changes to voting in Michigan. While there are some logical proposals in this package, the GOP effort seems to be a solution in search of a problem, one that could negatively impact voter access and turnout as we go to the polls next year.

On the plus side of this effort, the Senate bills would allow for 16-year-olds to preregister to vote when getting their driver license and would provide that military service members overseas could return their ballots electronically. Also provided would be better training for election workers and poll watchers; larger communities would be allowed to prepare to process – but not count – absentee ballots one day before the election; and early voting would be allowed on the second Saturday before an election.

With some minor tweaks, these are all good things that could help improve the election process.

However,the major portion of the bills introduced would only serve to either lessen access or serve to discourage voters in the future. The changes appear more to appease the political crowd that bought into the disproven argument that there were massive problems and cheating in the presidential election that just passed.

Among the more onerous changes is an attack on absentee ballots, a voting method that had been gaining steam all on its own over the years, with a major increase during the pandemic as voters cast ballots in 2020. For decades, election workers could compare signatures on applications for an absentee ballot with signatures that are on file. The new plan is to require applicants to include a copy of a photo identification, like a driver license or state identification card, with an application or the identification can be brought to the local clerks office, a system likely to impact those who either don't drive or don't have a printer or photo copier at home. In other words, a way to disenfranchise those of lesser means from participating in the election process.

The bills would also prohibit the state secretary of state (SOS) from mailing applications to those who did not request to vote in this manner, and the SOS could not even post the absentee ballot application online. Further, local clerks would also be restricted from providing free return postage on absentee ballots, even if the secretary of state's office provided the necessary funds.

Lawmakers have also proposed that voting law mandate local clerks must finish counting and report votes to the county board of canvassers by noon the day following an election, a tough task for some larger municipalities when voter turnout is heavy.

Drop boxes for ballots, introduced during the pandemic, would now need to be approved by the county board of canvassers, comprising two Republicans and two Democrats. Drop boxes would have to be locked by 5 p.m. the day before an election, a move local clerks say would clearly increase foot traffic in their offices on a busy election day. And thanks to Oakland Republican Senator and former SOS Ruth Johnson, drop boxes would have to be monitored by high definition video, no doubt in response to the unproven “vote stealing” narrative put forth by the GOP (including by Johnson herself) after the last election.

GOP senators would also eliminate non-partisan vote challengers, replacing them with those the political parties have approved. Challengers would also now be allowed to record by video the ballot tabulations – you know, to prevent all those fake Democrat ballots that made their way into the counting process in the last election.

Even more bothersome than these and other proposed changes that would add to voter suppression efforts is the announcement by Republicans in recent weeks that they may seek to avoid what most consider a guaranteed veto by the state's Democratic governor by running a petition drive, no doubt funded by the state party, to adopt these measures. Under that approach, these bills become veto-proof.

Clearly, lawmakers need to hear from the voting public on this package of legislation. Take the time – now – to reach out to local Senate and House members to prevent a further erosion of your right to vote.


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