House OKs voter ID bills along party-line vote

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan House on Thursday voted 56-51 along party lines to create stricter voter ID requirements in Michigan election law, pushing the legislation to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's desk where it is likely to be vetoed. 

The legislation — which enshrines most of the changes present in a separate ballot initiative currently collecting signatures — was debated Thursday afternoon with several Democratic lawmakers criticizing it as voter suppression and Republicans defending the measures as a means to ensure safe and secure elections.

Protesters were escorted from the gallery during the floor debate after they shouted "No justice, no peace!" and "This is a dirty rotten shame."

"My vote is my voice," Rep. Amos O'Neal, D-Saginaw, repeated several times on the House floor. 

"These bills are bad policy for the very people the 1965 Voting Rights Act was created to protect," O'Neal said. 

Michigan House of Representatives is seen in this file photo from 2018.

But Republican lawmakers argued the legislation was a way to put best practices into statute and assuage some of the doubts that cropped up during a wave of unfounded fraud allegations after the 2020 general election.

Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, noted individuals need an ID to get a hunting or fishing license, get on a plane, buy a gun or even visit state representatives in their offices.

"You need an ID to do just about everything in life," Johnson said. "This is not suppressing the vote.”

The legislation, which passed the Senate 20-15 last week, would create stricter requirements for voter identification and ban election officials from sending out absentee ballot applications unless they are requested by voters, a response to Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's decision to send all Michigan voters absentee ballot applications ahead of the 2020 presidential election. 

The bill would require in-person voters to show ID for their ballots to count, instead of current practice in which individuals are able to vote without an ID if they fill out an affidavit attesting to their identity. More than 11,000 voters used provisional ballots in the 2020 election.

The legislation approved Thursday would require those without ID to cast a provisional ballot and show their ID to the local clerk within a week for their vote to count. A companion bill also passed Thursday would waive certain fees associated with getting an ID from the Secretary of State's office. 

The bill also would mandate that those voting absentee submit their driver's license number, state personal ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number. Current law requires individuals to sign the absentee application certifying it as accurate. Those signatures are verified against signatures in the state's qualified voter file. 

The legislation is similar to the GOP-backed Secure MI Vote petition initiative, which has started to collect 340,047 petition signatures to put the changes before the Legislature and avoid the governor's veto. 

GOP former President Donald Trump lost Michigan to Democratic President Joe Biden by 154,000 votes or 3 percentage points.

But months of failed court cases, protests, canvassing battles, and legislative hearings followed the 2020 presidential election in Michigan after there were unsubstantiated claims of election fraud. More than 250 audits performed by Democratic and Republican clerks confirmed the results of the election.

Democratic lawmakers criticized the legislation as perpetuating the "Big Lie" alleging that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Rep. Helena Scott, D-Detroit, said Rosa Parks would "rolling in her grave" over the contents of the bill. 

"Our current system works and the only reason people think otherwise is because they’ve been misled," Scott said. 

But Rep. Ann Bollin, R-Brighton Township, said her observations of the 2020 election convinced her of the need "to put best practices into statute." After a presidential election that was held during a pandemic, which implemented new 2018 voting rules and involved record absentee participation, "How can any of us think there is absolutely no room for improvement?" Bollin asked. 

"They are being presented to ensure that eligible voters can vote and their vote will be counted," Bollin said of the legislation.