Initiative changing state voting rules to begin gathering signatures after canvassers' OK

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Delta Township — An effort to change several Michigan voting laws is likely to begin collecting signatures in the coming days after securing approval Monday as to the form of the petition initiative. 

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers voted 3-0 Monday to approve the Secure MI Vote petition. Democratic Canvasser Julie Matuzak was absent from the meeting. 

The bipartisan panel last week approved the 100-word summary for the petition initiative, which seeks stricter voter identification requirements, but it held off on approval as to form because of several typographical errors in the petition and an inaccurate title on the printer's affidavit. With those corrected, canvassers moved forward with approval as to form.

The votes are largely procedural and based on whether the petition initiative meets technical specifications for approval.

"I will vote for this but understand that we do have voter ID laws in the state of Michigan and I don’t think we should be hamstringing local clerks," said Democratic Canvasser Jeannette Bradshaw. 

Rochester Hills Deputy City Clerk Leanne Scott shows a ballot to poll workers during a training session for the Nov. 3, 2020 presidential election at city hall in Rochester on Oct. 21, 2020.  An effort to change several Michigan voting laws is likely to begin collecting signatures in the coming days after securing approval on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021.

Secure MI Vote intends to begin gathering signatures in the coming days. Once the group starts collecting signatures, it will have 180 days to gather 340,047 valid signatures.

"We’ll get to work here very quickly in gathering signatures with our volunteer network across the state," said Jamie Roe, a spokesman for Secure MI Vote. "We’re very hopeful we’ll have the process complete before the 180 days are up.”

The board's decision Monday brought out a volley of criticism from opponents including the Michigan Democratic Party, Voters Not Politicians and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist. 

Gilchrist called the initiative "anti-democracy and anti-American" and urged Michigan residents to oppose the proposal.

“This is a dishonest effort that is wrong for Michigan," Gilchrist said. "Its purpose is to make voting harder, and create additional, complicated burdens on election workers whose effort and professionalism just delivered the most secure, accessible, and high-turnout election in our state's history.” 

After the Bureau of Elections verifies the signatures and the petition is certified, it can be sent to the Legislature for approval or to voters on the next ballot. Organizers have indicated the voting petition initiative would go directly to the Legislature. 

If lawmakers approve the proposal, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer cannot block it. 

Bradshaw expressed concerns on Monday that the petition would add additional burdens to absentee voters, particularly those in the military or overseas who would have to provide additional identification materials while deployed to get an absentee ballot. 

"I think it just puts an undue burden on numerous people within our population," she said after the meeting. 

Roe argued the state's current voter ID requirements are more of a "suggestion" since people without IDs can simply fill out an affidavit attesting to their identity rather than show proof. 

"We think there is broad support for that provision across the state and we are looking forward to finally making that law," Roe said. 

The petition would require photo ID for voters to cast their ballots in person and require absentee voters to submit their driver's license number, state personal ID number and the last four digits of their Social Security number.

The proposal would create a "Voter Access Fund" to provide identification cards to those who face financial hardship and appropriate $3 million for the effort.

Under the proposal, those without photo ID at the polls would have to cast a provisional ballot and return within six days to verify their identities for their votes to count.

The petition initiative also would ban corporate entities from funding election administration and prohibit election officials from sending out absentee ballot applications without a specific request from a voter. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson did just that ahead of the November 2020 election but hasn't decided whether she will for the 2022 elections. 

The measures are similar to ones advanced by the GOP-majority Michigan Legislature — bills that have little chance of becoming law because they would require Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's signature. 

Under current law, voters must either present an ID or sign an affidavit saying they are not in possession of an ID to cast a ballot in person on Election Day. For absentee ballots, those who apply through the mail submit a form with a signature and must certify that their application is accurate. Signatures submitted with absentee ballots are verified against signatures in the state's qualified voter file.