Poll worker protections, restrictions on AI in political ads await governor’s signature ⋆
In their final session before adjourning for the year, members of the Michigan Legislature finalized a set of bills that would help protect poll workers and regulate the use of artificial intelligence in political advertising as the country moves into another election year.
House Bill 4129, which establishes penalties for intimidating or preventing election officials from performing their duties; House Bills 5141, 5143, and 5144, which requires disclaimers in political ads made with AI and creates penalties for trying to deceive voters with artificial intelligence in their advertising; and House Bill 5145, which creates sentencing guideline for these new election law offense, will all head to the governor’s desk.
While House Bill 4129 passed through the Senate unchanged after passing the House last week, House Bills 5141, 5143, 5144 and 5145 saw additional adjustments before returning to the House for a vote.
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Under House Bill 4129, sponsored by state Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt) intimidating or preventing election officials from performing their duties would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in prison or a fine of up to $500.
A second offense would result in a $1,000 fine and up to a year in prison. The third and any further violation would be a felony.
Under House Bill 5141, any person, committee or other entity who publishes or distributes qualified political advertisements is required to include a disclaimer noting the ad had been created wholly or partially through the use of AI.
In the version of the bill passed by the House, failure to provide a proper disclaimer could result in a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in prison, a fine of up to $1,000, or both with fines raised to $1,500 for a second violation. A third and any subsequent offense would have been a felony punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, two years in prison or both.
However, the final version passed by the Senate and concurred in the House reduced the penalties significantly, changing the violations to a state civil infraction. First-time offenses will result in a maximum fine of $250, while each further violation carries a maximum fine of $1,000. Each advertisement that is distributed or aired would be considered a separate violation with some exemptions for parody or satire ads and the media.
The final version of the bill also dropped language creating penalties for parties outside of qualified campaigns who circulate political materials created by AI without including a disclaimer.
While lawmakers reduced the penalties for failing to include a disclaimer in political ads, the punishments for distributing materially deceptive media — often known as deepfakes — with the intent to deceive voters have remained consistent.
Individuals who fail to include a disclaimer on their potentially deceptive ads would face misdemeanor charges, a maximum fine of $500 and no more than 90 days of imprisonment for their first offense. If another violation occurs within five years of a previous violation, it would be a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.
The Legislature also adjusted the definition of AI included in HB 5143, which now defines artificial intelligence as “a machine-based system that can, for a given set of human-defined objectives, make predictions, recommendations, or decisions influencing real or virtual environments, and that uses machine and human-based inputs to do all of the following:
- Perceive real and virtual environments.
- Abstract such perceptions into models through analysis in an automated manner.
- Use model inference to formulate options for information or action.”
“AI is a rapidly evolving technology. And as we go forward, it’s going to have an even greater impact on our election process and how people consume political information leading up to elections,” state Rep. Matthew Bierlein (R-Vassar), one of the sponsors of the AI package, said while speaking in support of the bills before the House Elections Committee.
“In an era where AI is becoming an integral part of our lives, it is crucial to have a legal framework that addresses impacts and potential risks. … The bills are a win for voters and a win for the integrity of our [election] process. If we don’t establish a clear framework now we’re going to be playing catch up later,” Bierlein said.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Nov. 8, 2022. (Andrew Roth/)
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson praised the bills’ passage in the House last week in a statement.
“The Legislature’s vote to strengthen penalties for those who threaten or harass election workers in particular will put us in a strong position to ensure the safety and security of election officials across our state,” Benson said.
“I’m also glad to see bills passed today that address the impact of artificial intelligence on our political discourse and election security… I will continue to work with our partners at the state and federal level to make sure we do everything possible to protect voters from foreign or domestic attempts to utilize AI to interfere in our elections.” Benson said.
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authored by Kyle Davidson
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