Michigan Senate committee approves stronger voter ID reforms

The Michigan Capitol building in Lansing.
The Michigan Capitol building in Lansing.((source: WJRT))
Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 3:12 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - Part of a 39-bill plan from Michigan Republicans to reform state election laws moved forward on Wednesday.

The Senate Elections Committee approved three bills that would strengthen identification requirements. Republican State Sen. Ruth Johnson said the changes would fix vulnerabilities in the 2018 election changes that voters approved.

Before Michigan voters approved Proposal 3 of 2018, voters had to cast a ballot in person at their polling location before they could vote absentee in the next election. Johnson said the 2018 changes removed that requirement, so people can register to vote online and cast an absentee ballot without ever being seen.

Senate Bill 285 would require anyone applying for an absentee ballot in Michigan to provide their driver’s license number, state ID card number or the last four digits of their Social Security number. They also could show their ID to their local clerk or send a photocopy of their license or ID card.

“There is strong bipartisan support for requiring voters to use ID to vote,” she said. “Ensuring the integrity of our elections is critical to a healthy democracy and requiring voters verify their identity with ID is the best way to protect the ‘one person, one vote’ standard.”

Johnson, a former Michigan secretary of state from 2011 to 2019, also pointed out a change approved in 2018 allows voters to register on Election Day without presenting a valid photo ID.

“There is no real-time system for us to check if they are eligible to vote or if they have already voted in another location,” Johnson said.

Michigan voters already are asked to present a photo ID at the polls, but anyone who doesn’t have one can fill out an affidavit instead and cast their ballot as normal. Senate Bill 303 would require voters to present a valid ID at the polls and Senate Bill 304 would set up a process of casting a provisional ballot if they don’t have ID.

People who cast a provisional ballot would have six days after the election to present a valid ID to their local clerk for their vote to count in the official totals under Senate Bill 304.

All three bills now go to the full Senate for consideration. They would have to pass there and in the House before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would decide whether to sign them into law.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson continued criticizing the Republican bills after Wednesday’s committee vote. She said the three bills are unnecessary because the 2020 election was the most secure in Michigan’s history.

“The bills passed today will do nothing to bolster the extremely strong voter ID laws Michigan already has, and the politicians pushing the bills through are fine with that, because their real goal is reducing voter turnout,” Benson said.

She said the suggestion that absentee voters send a photocopy of their driver’s license of state ID card with an absentee ballot application makes them vulnerable to identity theft.

Benson added that the provisional ballot process for in-person voters without ID would increase the number of votes that are not counted across the state.

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