Michigan GOP unveils dozens of election overhaul bills after 2020 loss
Michigan Senate Republicans unveiled a sweeping package of more than three dozen bills to overhaul state election procedures after discredited efforts to overturn the results of the state’s 2020 election, which President Biden won by nearly 3 percentage points.
The bills introduced by Michigan Republicans on Wednesday stand as a greatest-hits list amid a nationwide effort led by Republican legislatures to restrict access to the ballot box. But the sheer number of bills introduced — 39 — eclipses states like Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania, where legislators have been hard at work advancing measures to change election rules.
“Everyone must have confidence that our elections system is fair, safe and open,” state Senate Majority Floor Leader Dan Lauwers (R) said in a statement. “The reforms introduced today will increase transparency in the process and ensure people are guaranteed access to secure elections.”
Among the bills introduced by Michigan senators on Wednesday: A measure requiring voters to submit a copy of a state-approved identification card when submitting an absentee ballot. A measure barring both the secretary of state from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot applications, and another that would prevent the office from making absentee ballots available online. A measure requiring absentee ballot drop boxes to be monitored by cameras and another limiting the use of drop boxes after 5 p.m. the day before Election Day.
Other measures would give poll watchers and election challengers the legal authority to use cameras and video recorders to record vote tabulations. Former President Trump and his supporters claimed that some poll watchers were kept too far away from tabulators in Detroit because of coronavirus distancing rules.
Two Republican poll watchers were removed from a Detroit ballot processing center in the days after the election, one for allegedly using racist language and another for refusing to wear a mask properly. Affidavits filed by Republican poll watchers after the fact cited no instances of fraud and a handful of debunked claims about ballot counting procedures.
In the months after the 2020 election, Republican lawmakers in Michigan repeatedly undermined confidence in the state’s elections procedures, raised debunked claims of widespread fraud and launched investigations that have so far failed to turn up any evidence of improper voting.
Republicans said Wednesday their package of bills were meant to restore the confidence they themselves had helped undermine.
“The widespread concern and lack of confidence and trust that stemmed from the 2020 election was a warning sign that something needed to be done to restore and maintain faith in our system,” state Sen. Rick Outman (R) said in a statement.
Democrats erupted at the package of measures, alleging a coordinated scheme to disenfranchise the voters who elected Biden and Sen. Gary Peters (D) in November.
State Sen. Erika Geiss (D) called the package “an unconscionable resurrection of Jim Crow designed to keep Black and Brown Americans from fully participating in the democratic process.”
In an interview Thursday, Ingham County Clerk Barbara Byrum (D) pointed to Proposition 3, a ballot measure that passed with 67 percent of the vote in 2018 that allowed straight-ticket voting, automatic and same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting.
“Here we have legislators who are actively working against the will of Michigan citizens, trying to make it more difficult to vote. Honestly, this is not surprising. It makes sense for the GOP,” Byrum said. “They’re the ones that have been continuing spreading misinformation about election fraud.”
Two of the lead Republican sponsors of the bill have been among the loudest voices questioning the validity of the 2020 elections. State Sen. Ruth Johnson (R), a former secretary of state herself, has criticized Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) for mailing absentee ballot applications to every Michigan voter in the midst of a pandemic. State Sen. Ed McBroom (R) has led some of the hearings that have failed to turn up any significant wrongdoing.
Biden won Michigan by more than 154,000 votes in 2020, about 15 times the margin by which former President Trump carried the state in 2016. Biden received the second-highest number of votes in Michigan, 2.8 million, of any presidential candidate ever, falling short only of Barack Obama’s 2.87 million in 2008.
Only one candidate in Michigan history, then-Sen. Carl Levin (D) in 2008, has received more than 3 million votes in an election.
Two other bills directly impact election officials’ ability to pay for future elections. One measure would block the secretary of state’s office from using federal money to run elections until the legislature signs off. Another bill would prevent local clerks from accepting third-party donations to help run elections, after private donors stepped up to provide funding to help several states operate last year’s elections.
“There have been problems related to these issues in past elections,” Lauwers said of the private donations. “We need to maintain a separation between political and legislative entities. This bill will help ensure that we do so.”
But Bynum said the measures would tie the hands of local officials who are already struggling to pay for safe and secure elections.
“The direct result of this would be less people permitted the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. There are numerous unfunded mandates in this legislation. Clerks are already stretching their budget trying to conduct secure, safe, fair elections, and we have been successful in Michigan to have safe and secure elections,” Bynum said. “Any concerns with the integrity of our elections, they rest solely at these Republican legislators’ feet.”