Whitmer vetoes bills tightening voter ID laws for in-person, absentee voters

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed three bills Friday that would toughen Michigan's identification requirements for in-person voters and absentee ballot voters.

Republicans responded quickly to condemn the veto and argued there need to be real-time checks on identity to guard against potential fraud.

The legislation, which passed the House and Senate along party lines earlier this month, includes the same requirements enshrined in a separate ballot petition initiative, Secure MI Vote, which is currently collecting signatures. 

The bills were destined for the chopping block from the moment of passage, when Whitmer vowed to veto the legislation. The Democratic governor has vetoed other voting bills from the GOP-led Legislature in recent months.  

Whitmer argued in her Friday veto letter that the legislation's elimination of an option for voters to submit an affidavit attesting to their identity instead of a state ID would disenfranchise about 18,000 voters who relied on affidavits in recent elections. 

"To be clear, there is no evidence that use of affidavit ballots is related to voter fraud," Whitmer's letter said. "In fact, the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee recently concluded that the 2020 election produced no significant evidence of fraud."

The governor also argued that the bills would disproportionately harm communities of color since non-White voters were five times more likely to lack an ID on election day. 

"Voting restrictions that produce such a racially disparate impact must never become law in this state," Whitmer wrote. 

Republicans argued that polling shows Michigan voters support requirements for voters to show a state ID. 

“Proposal 3 made changes that weakened the integrity of our election system by allowing people to register and vote without ever being seen in-person," said Sen. Ruth Johnson, the Holly Republican who chairs the Senate Elections Committee and is a former secretary of state.

"It also allows people to register and vote on Election Day without showing an ID and with no real-time system to check if they are eligible or have voted in another location," Johnson said. 

Several advocacy groups celebrated the Friday veto, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan saying the legislation was an attempt to "gut the progress Michiganders have made to modernize our election system."

“We applaud Gov. Whitmer for vetoing this voter suppression attempt, and protecting the voices and votes of historically disenfranchised Michiganders who would face more barriers to the ballot if this legislation were to become law," said Merissa Kovach, policy strategist for the ACLU of Michigan. "Protecting the right to vote is paramount, and these bills do the opposite.”

The bills would have created 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 bills required in-person voters to show ID for their ballots to count, instead of the 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 also required 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 — the third in the package vetoed Friday — would waive certain fees associated with getting an ID from the Secretary of State's office. 

The legislation also would have mandated 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 bills would have banned elections administrators from accepting third-party contributions for election administration. 

At the end of her veto letter, Whitmer said she would support laws providing additional access to the ballot for military families as well as rules creating a permanent absentee lists and expanding ballot pre-processing. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com