In June of this year, a series of three election reform bills passed both houses of the Michigan state legislature. Republicans comprise the majority in each house of the legislature, and all three bills were passed on party-line votes with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed. The first of the three bills, SB 285, would impose new voter I.D. requirements on absentee voters. It would require voters to provide a photocopy of their I.D. (among other forms of acceptable identification) with their mailed application or present I.D. to the officials at the county clerk’s office when applying in person. Any voter who did not do so would be mailed a provisional ballot and be required to prove their identity before their vote could be counted.
In the second bill, SB 303, voters who cannot or do not produce I.D. on election day are required to vote a provisional ballot and return to their county clerk’s office to verify their identity. If they do not do so, the ballot will not be counted in the final electoral tally. Under current Michigan law, a voter who arrives at the polls without any form of I.D. can still vote regularly by simply signing an affidavit affirming their identity under penalty of perjury. An amendment to SB 303 passed by the Michigan House of Representatives would also require that a digitized version of each voter’s signature be added to the electronic pollbook and verified with the voter’s application to vote absentee. A mismatched signature under current Michigan law results in an automatic challenge to the vote at the tabulation stage, but under this amendment, the ballot is automatically made provisional, and the voter would have to return to the county clerk’s office to prove their identification in order for their vote to be counted in the final tally.
In the third bill, SB 304, the period within which voters could return to their county clerk’s office to verify their identity was shortened to six days. A House amendment to this bill additionally specified that a Michigan state-issued identification card must be issued to voters free of charge. However, obtaining one of those state I.D. cards still requires other underlying documentation, like birth certificates, social security cards, bills or paystubs with a current address, and proof of actual residence.
Michigan Republicans ushered these bills through the state legislature as part of a series of thirty-nine election-related bills that have been causing controversy within the state, much like election reforms are causing controversy nationwide. Republicans insist these measures are necessary to establish uniform standards across in-person and absentee voting and to prevent voter fraud. State elections attorneys and other election law experts in Michigan say the laws will have a discriminatory effect on the elderly, the poor, and minority communities who have less access and ability to obtain the types of identification these laws would require.
Michigan’s Democratic Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, has vowed to veto any election bills that she says would suppress the vote in the state. However, Republicans have already begun a ballot initiative process that would allow them to bypass the Governor’s signature and perhaps even a majority of voters to pass these reforms.