Detroit NAACP says Michigan Senate GOP voting bills ‘place democracy on a ventilator’
LANSING, MI – Civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman once said that democracy “cannot breathe” and will die “when those who are committed to protecting it and obeying the law wipe it out – with no consequence.”
On Tuesday at the Michigan State Capitol, today’s wave of black activists from Detroit updated this message for the modern age.
Dr. Wendell Anthony, president of the NAACP’s Detroit office, led a rally with Mayor Mike Duggan and the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus on April 13 to oppose the Senate’s vote last month.
Citing images of the COVID-19 age, he said these bills would usher in a “political pandemic”.
“You would put democracy on a ventilator,” he told a crowd of about 100 people on the Capitol steps. “They don’t offer better access, but a great program to suppress the rights of a select group of Michigandans.”
The Lansing protest is the latest plea by Democrats and activists to rally support against the 39-Bill Senate package, due to be debated for the first time this week. Senate Bills 273-311 cover a number of proposed amendments, but opponents have focused on various controls on postal voting.
Read more: Michigan Senate GOP debuts electoral reforms critical of Secretary of State’s handling of November’s elections
Duggan responded to a handful of these suggestions:
- Senate Law 310, sponsored by Holly Senator Ruth Johnson, requires postal ballot applications to be sent only to voters who request them and that the Secretary of State cannot share an online link to an application page.
- Senate Act 285, sponsored by Senator Lana Theis of Brighton, requires postal ballot applicants to include a photocopy of ID when filing applications with local employees.
- Senate Bill 287, sponsored by Midland Senator Jim Stamas, which would prevent the state or local employees from repaying postage for postal voting envelopes and asking voters to pay for postage on a postal ballot.
- Senate Bill 273, sponsored by Johnson, which would require approval by the Secretary of State and the County Board of Canvassers for all postal voting boxes installed before October 1, 2021. Local employees would also have to ensure constant video monitoring of the box.
Duggan claimed these bills were targeting low-income and minority communities.
“They are structured so that the people who disagree with the bill sponsors will have the most trouble casting their votes,” he said. “In short, they raise barriers.”
The Senate Republicans drew the bill with the slogan “easier to vote, harder to cheat”. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, responded to opposition from more than 30 Michigan companies like Ford and General Motors, saying the package was still in its infancy and was being negotiated with his Senate colleagues across the aisle .
Read more: Ford, GM, a number of Michigan companies denounce Senate Republican electoral laws
“At all times we must use logic, not political sentiment or ‘alertness’, to build good public policies that serve all Michigandans and protect our democracy,” he said in a statement. “If an ID card is seen as an obstacle to voting because there is a problem retrieving the ID card, we’ll solve that problem.”
The Senate Package in its current form has more control over the postal voting process than just a personal ID.
Praising the joint statement by the Michigan companies, Anthony said, “If you stop the money, you will keep the honey from taking office.”
More than 20 Democratic lawmakers gathered on the steps of the Capitol as Senator Erika Geiss von Taylor spoke on behalf of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus. She reiterated the view that these bills suppress voices, but also said they would make it harder for local employees to work.
“These bills complicate the work of clerks, the foreign secretary and other election workers who are already doing the yeoman’s job of conducting and administering elections,” she said.
One of the main sponsors of the package is Senator Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, who cites Senate Bill 286 as an antipole to this point. It would prohibit the submission of postal ballot papers in collection boxes after 5 p.m. on the day before election day.
He argues that the whole process of collecting ballot papers for different boxes in a district, processing and eventually tabulating can be sped up simply by asking people to vote in person on election day (with the exception of a public health emergency, he added).
“If you wait until election day to vote, just go into the building and give the ballot to someone so they can work on it as soon as possible,” he said of them coming after 8pm. “
Geiss has also included a handful of House-approved electoral laws in its criticism. Five of the seven bills came from recommended changes by the Auditor General, and all were non-partisan sponsored and approved.
The measures would clean up the list of names of the qualified voter register, ensure better training of local employees and improve reporting on campaign funding.
The Senate will begin hearings on the 39 bill package in the Senate Electoral Committee on Wednesday afternoon April 14.
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