LANSING – Michigan electoral rules revision legislation shares features – but some differences – with a controversial new Georgian law that has sparked national backlash and voter suppression claims.
As in Georgia, Michigan bills propose stringent voter identification requirements and new postal ballot rules that could make it difficult for many to vote.
However, the 39 bill legislation contains several unique provisions and some of the most criticized aspects of Georgian law, such as a ban on free water for voters standing in line.
Republicans across the country are scrambling to tighten electoral law following a loss of the presidential election marked by false accusations of fraud by former President Donald Trump and his supporters, including some Michigan lawmakers.
In the first three months of 2021, lawmakers in 47 states had introduced a total of 361 bills with provisions that could make voting difficult, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.
Michigan is unique among divided-government states because the state constitution contains a mechanism that could allow the Republican-led legislature to circumvent the vetoes promised by Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
The Michigan Republican Party is planning a petition to do just that, Chairman Ron Weiser said, setting the stage for a battle over the Senate electoral reform laws passed last month.
Here’s a look at how Michigan law, as it was introduced but is still subject to change, compares to Georgia’s new electoral law.
- Voter ID required for personal and absent voters: Georgian law requires voters to print their driver’s license or ID number on their postal voting application. Michigan’s proposal would require applicants to include a photocopy of their ID when requesting a postal vote by mail. Michigan law would also tighten personal voter ID options to remove the option for unidentified voters to sign an affidavit of identity instead.
- Make it illegal for election officials to send postal ballot applications to all voters: When the pandemic hit last year, Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Michigan Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson sent postal votes to every voter in the state before the primary. Both states recorded record participation. Michigan legislation, which would ban the practice, likely means some voters will certainly not be calling for a postal vote in the next statewide election.
- Do little to speed up the vote count: Georgian law allows employees to start processing ballots three weeks before an election – but not to count them. Michigan’s proposal would start processing a day early, which was the first time it was allowed last year. That means that postal ballot counting in Michigan and Georgia can again introduce lengthy delays in reporting results, giving candidates like Trump the opportunity to declare an early victory and dispute legitimate ballots later counted. In contrast, Florida allows employees to count postal ballots weeks in advance.
- Prohibit election officials from accepting third-party funding: Like Georgia law, the Michigan proposal would prevent state, county, or local employees from accepting electoral administration grants from private organizations. It’s in response to COVID-19 grants made by the Center for Tech and Civil Life following a $ 250 million contribution from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. His involvement sparked right-wing conspiracy theories about election rigging and lawsuits alleging the group directed grants to Democratic cities, although many Republican-run cities also received grants in Michigan and other parts of the country.
- Limit the use of out-of-office dropboxes: Georgian law will limit the number of postal ballot papers local officials could provide, depending on the number of local voters. The Michigan proposal does not explicitly do this, but does include a mechanism that could allow partisan election officials to block dropboxes at the county level and would require employees to prevent use after 5 p.m. the day before an election.
- Extend early voting: Georgia law expands early voting opportunities by requiring local employees to open for early voting two Saturdays before election day. Early voting is optional on the two Sundays before an election, but it prohibits counties from allowing early voting on other days. Michigan’s proposal would include a new state-wide early voting day on the second Saturday before an election. Michigan voters can vote effectively early by personally voting by absenteeism in employee offices, which must be open at least eight hours on the weekend prior to the election.
- Prohibit voters standing in line from having free water or food: Georgian law would make it an offense to provide free water or food to voters within 150 feet of a polling station or within 25 feet of a line outside that polling station. The Michigan proposal does not contain any similar restrictions.
- Limit mobile voter centers: Georgian law would prohibit local election officials from using recreational vehicles as mobile voting centers unless the governor declares an emergency. Michigan allows employees to open temporary satellite offices before an election, and the Senate’s new GOP proposal wouldn’t change that.
- Authorize the GOP-led legislature to suspend local election officials: In what is known as a power play, Georgia law allows the State Election Board to suspend county or community electoral officials for “noncompliance, misconduct, or gross negligence.” The Republican-controlled board could appoint a temporary replacement to run local elections.
- Cash prepaid return postage for postal voting: According to Michigan’s proposal, voters who want to vote by mail would have to find and pay for a stamp prohibiting local governments from providing postal voters with prepaid envelopes. Some local governments have provided free postage and others have not, which Republicans believe has created an uneven playing field.
- Add, allow video surveillance: The Michigan plan would require local employees to monitor every postal ballot waste in the state with high-definition video cameras. This would also allow political party challengers to film ballot papers in polling stations. A transparency provision that court clerks said could intimidate voters and jeopardize their right to secret ballots.
- Prohibition of impartial election challengers: Michigan’s proposal would ban impartial respondents who are currently allowed to oversee the ballot counting process in order to protect them from “voting abuse”. According to the Senate’s GOP plan, only political parties could nominate challengers. Non-partisan groups like the Michigan League of Women Voters could not.
- Pre-register 16 year olds to vote: Michigan law would allow 16-year-old citizens who have a driver’s license to pre-register to vote from the age of 18.
- Voters must receive the full text of an election proposal: Michigan law would require election officials to provide each personal and absent voter with the full text of a proposal that is eligible for voting. It does not specify whether the full text must appear on the ballot itself, which can lead to very long ballot papers, or whether it must be provided separately at the polling station or by post.
- Need more consensus to confirm some choices: The Michigan plan would increase the size of billboards in counties with more than 200,000 residents from the current four to six or eight members. The bodies would still be evenly divided by party line, but confirmation of an election would require the support of at least two members of each political party, rather than one under applicable law. Seven of Michigan’s nine counties of this size voted for the Democrats in 2020, and the bill could make it easier for a holdout recruiter to block the election results.
- Create a new deadline for the election results: Michigan’s proposal would not allow employees time to count ballots, but would have to deliver results to the county by noon the day after an election. Last year, larger and more democratic cities like Detroit, Grand Rapids and Flint hadn’t finished counting postal ballot papers by this point, and legislation could lead to litigation over the status of ballot papers that are not counted within that deadline, which it may could lead to the disenfranchisement of voters. The invoice does not include a penalty for missed deadlines.