election, Elections — May 11, 2021 at 4:06 pm

I’ve got 39 election bill problems and early tabulation ain’t one of them


With outsiders trying to politicize election administration in the United States, it is time to enshrine voter protections and access to the ballot box nationwide. The constant drumbeat of election conspiracies, prompted by the former President and perpetuated by radical Republicans has resulted in suppressive legislation being introduced in 47 states across the country.  Some of these laws have even begun to be signed into law in states like Georgia and Florida. Such legislation will do nothing to increase security in our elections but go a long way in making access unnecessarily difficult for qualified, registered voters. 

Perhaps you have heard of the 39 bills the Michigan Senate GOP introduced on March 24th.  All indications are that these bills are going to move fast.  Of course, Senator (and former Secretary of State) Ruth Johnson hopped on over to publish an op-ed in support, which really shouldn’t be a surprise as she appears to have co-sponsored the most bills in this package.  Thankfully, Senator Erika Geiss also used her voice to speak out against these “21st Century Jim Crow” bills.    

Even The Lincoln Project has come out against this voter suppression initiative with this video.  Perhaps they feel that they did not act fast enough when similar legislation was introduced in Georgia.  Speaking of Georgia, Senate Leader Mike Shirkey has already confused what is in that package of bills, now laws, to what his caucus introduced in Michigan.  This should not be surprising since this is a coordinated effort by Republicans nationwide. 

The non-partisan group, Voters Not Politicians, has also come out against this blatant attempt to limit voter participation. 

I realize that legislation that makes access to the ballot more difficult is often labeled “voter disenfranchisement,” but that is the best this package can be called.  This legislation strives to require voters to copy their Michigan Driver’s License and send it with their Absentee Voter Ballot Application, which is completely unnecessary, as voters have already proven their identity and there are signature matching steps along the absentee voting process. What this really does is create an obstacle for voters submitting a request for an absentee ballot if they do not have access to special resources (photocopier or scanner).  Further, if the GOP really wanted to “secure the vote,” they would invest in technology and standards for signature match, which a computer could do, with the proper resources at the local (city and township) level.

The restrictions that are being considered for ballot drop boxes are not with election security in mind, but rather to make it more difficult for local clerks to install drop boxes.  One of the biggest hurdles is the unnecessary pixel requirements for video monitoring, something even the Senate itself cannot offer, during their legislative session meetings.  Requiring the County Board of Canvassers’ approval of each drop box is also an unnecessary obstacle that will make it more difficult to install and maintain drop boxes for voters to safely deliver their voted ballots to their clerk. Not to mention, some clerk’s offices are part-time, and will be less accessible when busy voters are looking to access their offices if drop boxes are unavailable. 

This legislation would also mandate that drop boxes be removed or locked at 5 p.m. on the day before Election Day!  Does it make sense that the GOP would block access to them, so that they become unavailable during the hours that they are most needed? In recent Senate Elections Committee hearings, there has been discussion of moving the drop box deadline to 5 p.m. on Election Day. Voters already have enough deadlines to remember, and I fear that an arbitrary deadline for drop boxes on Election Day will confuse and deter voters from properly returning their ballots (not to mention the additional stress this would place on local clerks). 

Do not even get me started about allowing video recording at the polling location and absent voter counting board, likely putting voters’ personal information and the secrecy of their vote at risk. This could also deter our dedicated, trained, and hard-working election workers from working elections if they are being intimidated by the recorders.

Finally, this legislation seeks to eliminate the ability for clerks to accept grant funding to help pay for the administration of elections and inserts a requirement for the Michigan Legislature to approve federal funding for elections. These avenues for funding are desperately needed since the Legislature has failed to adequately fund election administration for decades.  It may be of importance to note that legislation puting similar restrictions on Sheriff’s and Prosecutor’s has not been offered.  Typically, a Sheriff’s Department will receive private funding for police dogs and equipment, while courts may receive grant funding for speciality courts, such as drug and mental health courts.  County Prosecutors may receive private funding for victim services or domestic violence assistance.  Only Clerks are being restricted from taking private money under this legislation.  On top of limiting resource availability, this bill package instills unfunded mandates, something that Republicans say they are against. 

This should not be a partisan issue.  Legislation that impacts election administration should be supported universally by Democrats and Republicans.  There are updates to election law that are needed, but these unfunded partisan mandates are not it.  

We could be passing laws to ensure early tabulation of ballots, so that local clerks can begin counting ballots prior to Election Day. This would preclude waiting for days after the election for results to be posted and ensure greater confidence in the public in our election results. There are sensible reforms to the ways we allow military and overseas civilian voters to cast their ballots. The filing deadline for candidates could move back to give clerks adequate time to program the election and create the ballots. We could even take from the one or two good bills in this package and allow 16 year olds to pre-register to vote. 

But any of these discussions have to take place in good faith with the legislators, and my colleagues and I tried to do so by testifying at several committee hearings over the last few months and providing these ideas to the Republicans who are in the majority. My bipartisan colleagues and I thought that these legislators actually wanted to improve the process. Instead, these bills are what we got and we are not impressed. The Michigan Association of County Clerks Legislative Committee recently voted in opposition to the majority of these bills. But the Legislative Republicans are moving forward anyway.

Ten of the bills put forth by the Michigan GOP Senators are before the Senate Elections Committee this Wednesday. We need to hold these Senators accountable and contact them about our opposition to these bills. Michigan voters should not be punished just because the Michigan GOP are sore losers. 

Another way to prevent legislative Republicans at the state level from enacting damaging legislation like these bills is to encourage our Federal Representatives and Senators to pass the For the People Act through Congress. This important legislation would enact federal standards that would protect the rights of everyday Americans and enshrine important changes into federal law that bipartisan elections administrators across the nation agree upon.Every qualified, registered voter has a right to vote that cannot be taken away by one political party simply because they believe that more voters participating in the process does not accrue to their interest. Remember, any representative of the people who wishes to restrict voting rights is not a true representative of anyone. Today is the day to contact your state legislators to tell them to oppose these elections bills and stand up for voters’ rights.

[CC image credit: Michael Fleshman | Flickr]