Dems say new Michigan voting rights bills strengthen democracy ⋆

The state House in Michigan voted through a handful of bills aimed at addressing different elements of the voting process to ensure every eligible voter can participate in elections.

The bills address maintaining online voter applications, voting rights for military spouses, as well as eliminating certain parts of the state’s voting laws with the goal of allowing increased access to voters on Election Day.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson holds a press conference on the porch of the Grand Hotel during the Mackinac Policy Conference on May 31, 2023. (Andrew Roth/)

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson issued a statement Wednesday after the House voted on the legislation, saying the bills strengthen democracy in the state.

“At a time when voting rights are under attack at the federal level and in other states, I’m proud that Michigan is a leader in protecting and strengthening our fundamental right to participate in elections,” said Benson, a Democrat. “These bills keep our polling sites accessible for everyone and ensure the continued security of our absentee voting system.  

One of the bills, HB 4210, would allow spouses and dependents of active duty members of the military who are away from where they would otherwise vote to vote electronically.

“Military spouses, children, and families join service members in making significant sacrifices in service to our nation. Under current law, Michigan is the only state in the nation that allows members of the military serving overseas to return their ballot electronically but excludes military spouses and their dependents from this same option,” Benson said in her statement. “House Bill 4210 corrects that and joins Michigan with the majority of states granting a secure option for service members and their families while they are all overseas.”

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement that she “applauds” the passage of legislation that “makes it easier for Michiganders to safely and securely exercise their constitutional right to vote. 

“The bills passed today will ensure those serving our nation in uniform and their spouses can vote more easily, help seniors get to the polls, and require the creation of a website that allows voters to request their absentee ballot easily and securely.”

All the votes Wednesday on the election access bills came in along partisan lines with several Republican members offering their concerns over the bills.

In order to codify actions already being taken by the Secretary of State’s Office to allow voters to apply for an absentee ballot online through a system provided by the SOS, HB 4570 would require the SOS to maintain an online system for application.

Since Michigan voters approved a series of voting reforms in 2018, registering to vote up until Election Day is allowed, with restrictions. HB 4567 seeks to remove a requirement that those voters who can’t prove residency to register with a driver’s license, but use other documents permitted by law to prove residency when they register 14 days or less before an election, will not have their ballot automatically challenged, which is the current procedure.

State Rep. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton) who was a clerk in Brighton Township for years before joining the legislature said this bill and other bills being voted on Wednesday make elections less secure and further burden clerks.

State Rep. Ann Bollin speaks at a rally for GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon in Brighton, Nov. 4, 2022 | Laina Stebbins

“Your vote, my vote. This bill wipes away all guard rails,” Bollin said. “I urge a return to democracy and a no vote on this bill.”

Rep. Penelope Tsernoglou (D-East Lansing), representing the many students who vote on Election Day on Michigan State University’s campus, said the vast majority of voters this bill addresses are college students, having to navigate, often for the first time, the voting process.

“Challenging these ballots has caused significant delays and long lines for young voters who are trying to register on Election Day. Enforcing this requirement adds another 10 to 15 minutes of processing time per voter, which is why for example Ann Arbor returns were so slow to come in in the 2022 election,” Tsernoglou said. “And how many of these ballots have been removed after a challenge? Absolutely none.” 

Under current law, it’s a misdemeanor offense to hire transportation to bring voters to polling locations, unless the voter is physically unable to walk. HB 4568 would lift the ban on hiring transportation to escort voters.

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authored by Anna Liz Nichols
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2023%2F10%2F02%2Fdems-say-new-michigan-voting-rights-bills-strengthen-democracy%2F

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