Michigan GOP Chairman Ron Weiser funding voter ID campaign

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Ron Weiser, the chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, is the primary funder of a petition campaign to impose new voter ID requirements in the battleground state, according to a disclosure filed Tuesday.

Secure MI Vote, the committee that wants to mandate that voters present photo ID to cast their ballots in person, reported raising $85,618 from July 21 through Oct. 26. About 93% of the money came from Weiser in an apparent loan. The group listed $80,000 in debt owed to Weiser, a businessman, University of Michigan regent and prolific GOP donor. It's possible the loan could be later forgiven by the committee.

The next largest contributions were $250 each.

Ron Weiser

Tuesday's fundraising report was the first from Secure MI Vote since it announced its campaign at the end of August.

The group wants to change Michigan law to require voters to present photo ID to cast their ballots in person and force those wishing to use absentee ballots to submit their driver's license number, state personal ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number.

In Michigan, residents can collect 340,047 petition signatures and put a policy proposal before the state Legislature, which is currently controlled by Republicans. If lawmakers approve the initiative proposal, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would have no say and can't block it.

Republican lawmakers in Michigan and other states have been pushing changes to election law this year after Donald Trump's loss in November 2020. The former GOP president has made unsubstantiated claims that widespread fraud led to his defeat.

"I saw firsthand as Gretchen Whitmer vetoed, in a room filled with her supporters, legislation that would make it easier to vote and impossible to cheat," Weiser said in a statement Tuesday. "Secure MI Vote will reverse that veto and ensure the integrity of our elections is protected. That’s why I’m in support of this initiative."

In recent weeks, Whitmer has vetoed a series of GOP-backed election bills, including four at the Detroit NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner on Oct. 3.

A group that's opposing the Secure MI Vote campaign, Protect MI Vote, previously reported raising $2.5 million since April. Of that, $2.2 million came from the liberal nonprofit Sixteen Thirty Fund. That fund, listed at a Washington, D.C., address, doesn't have to disclose the source of its money.

Secure MI Vote formed in December, according to campaign finance disclosures. Its initial treasurer was Paul Cordes, who is Weiser's chief of staff at the Michigan Republican Party. Cordes is no longer listed as the group's treasurer.

During a March meeting with Republicans in Oakland County, Weiser said the state GOP wanted to blend together election bills proposed in the House and Senate for a petition initiative that lawmakers could enact without Whitmer being able to veto the changes.

Under current law, voters must either present an ID or sign an affidavit saying they are not in possession of 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 their absentee ballots are verified against signatures in the state's qualified voter file.

Under the Secure MI Vote 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. Secure MI Vote is also seeking a ban on election officials sending out absentee ballot applications unless voters specifically request the applications.

In May 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic struck Michigan, Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced her office would send absentee ballot applications to 7.7 million registered voters for the presidential election.

cmauger@detroitnews.com