Strict voter ID bills lined up for possible passage

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing – Top Republican leaders in the Michigan Legislature are backing a strict voter identification proposal, setting the stage for potential passage in the session’s final two weeks.

The House Elections Committee on Thursday advanced a three-bill package that would require voters to provide photo identification at their polling place or within 10 days of casting a provisional ballot on Election Day.

“It solves the opportunity for voter fraud,” said House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, who intends to put the plan up for a floor vote. “Voter fraud is something that’s very difficult to be able to identify, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t protect the right to vote.”

The proposal includes provisions allowing low-income voters to obtain a free birth certificate copy for the purposes of obtaining an ID, which is “great,” said Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo.

“But the problem with all this is, it’s used to restrict the vote, that’s what the purpose of this is,” he said. “It’s about making sure (we) can keep certain people from the polls, folks who can’t otherwise obtain get IDs.”

Current Michigan law allows voters without a photo ID to cast a ballot after signing an affidavit confirming their identity. The new proposal would treat that as a provisional ballot, which would only count if voters later provided an ID to their clerk within the 10-day window.

Alternatively, voters could show their local elections clerk a document establishing their residency and a second affidavit indicating they could not afford to obtain an ID due to indigence or a religious objection to being photographed.

An amendment adopted Thursday in committee added $10 million for the Michigan Secretary of State’s office to finance “election modernization, voter education and implementation” of the new rules.

The appropriation would make the bill immune to voter referendum, but that was not the motivation, said Elections Committee Chair Lisa Lyons, R-Alto.

“There is a legitimate need for funding in this legislation,” she said.

Hoadley agreed the state should provide money for education and implementation but said it should be done through the annual budget process, not policy bills.

“This is the wrong way to do, and it’s putting it on there just to make sure folks can’t challenge this at the ballot,” he said.

Other changes approved Tuesday in committee would allow voters to show an expired passport as a form of ID and waive the requirements for senior citizens who live in a nursing home that serves as a polling place.

“We’re doing everything we can to raise the bar without raising barriers,” Lyons said.

While federal courts have struck down strict voter ID laws in some states, the new Michigan proposal is based on a 2005 Indiana law that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The House could vote on the measure as early as next week. Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, signaled Thursday that he is interested in taking up the legislation should it reach his chamber this year.

“That is rather intriguing to me,” Meekhof said.