Secretary of State, other Democrats denounce Michigan GOP election bills

Republicans introduced 39 bills to the Michigan Senate in March
The Capitol Building in Lansing, Michigan.
The Capitol Building in Lansing, Michigan.(Eric Fletcher/ WJRT)
Published: Apr. 15, 2021 at 12:32 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and other prominent Democrats blasted a series of Republican-backed bills on Thursday that they believe will suppress voting rights.

Benson claimed the 39-bill package introduced to the Michigan Senate in March is part of a coordinated, national, partisan effort by the Republican Party to attack voting rights based on false information about the 2020 elections.

“The truth is that the 2020 election was secure, fair and an accurate reflection of the will of the people, and legislation that seeks to undo the policies that brought about its record-setting turnout and success is anti-American and does harm to every Michigander,” she said.

Republicans say the 39 bills introduced on March 24 are aimed at making voting easier and cheating during elections harder. Senate Bills 273 to 311 cover a wide variety of processes before, during and after an election. Highlights include:

  • Ballot security in drop boxes by restricting hours people can drop off ballots.
  • Ensuring Michigan’s Qualified Voter File remains updated.
  • Requiring voters to present their driver’s license, state ID card or a copy to obtain an absentee ballot.
  • Training requirements for poll challengers .
  • Transparency in the ballot auditing process.
  • Allowing 16-year-olds to preregister to vote when they receive their first driver’s license.
  • Improving challengers’ access to absentee ballot counting work.
  • Allowing video and audio recording of vote tabulation and ballot auditing.
  • Restricting unsolicited mass mailing of absentee ballot applications.
  • Improving the process of overseas military personnel to vote.
  • Allowing large communities to preprocess absentee ballots a day before Election Day (without official counting them).

Republican State Sen. Ruth Johnson of Holly, who served as Michigan’s secretary of state for eight years before Benson took office, is sponsoring 16 of the bills. She called the legislation a commonsense set of safeguard to protect the sanctity of voting in the state.

All 39 bills are pending in the Senate Committee on Elections, where they would have to pass before the full Senate could vote on them. The bills all need to pass the Senate and House before going to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for her conssideration.

Democrat State Rep. Matt Koleszar, who is the vice chairman of the House Elections and Ethics Committee, believes the Republican bills seek to undo some of the reforms Michigan voter approved with Proposal 3 in 2018.

“For Michigan Republicans to utilize the disproportionate power they hold due to their gerrymandered districts in an attempt to roll back those rights flies in the face of our democracy and our state constitution,” he said.

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey views the Republican legislation as an attack on election administrators across the state and may prevent some people from casting their ballots.

“They include countless ill-informed and nefarious measures that will negatively impact our elections and voters,” she said. “For example, by banning prepaid return postage on absentee ballot envelopes, the legislation discriminates against low-income citizens and prohibits a practice that I instituted 15 years ago which has continued without issue ever since.”

Benson laid out a more ambitious election reform proposal in February, which she dubbed Advancing the Vote, Protecting Democracy. She is calling for a formal early in-person voting process, the ability to count absentee ballots before the election and making Election Day an official state holiday.

Some of Benson’s proposals conflict with the Senate Republican plan, such as requiring absentee ballot applications be mailed to all registered voters before each election.

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