Michigan GOP leader reveals plans to go around Whitmer for voting law overhaul

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Republicans are crafting plans to work around Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to make changes to the battleground state's voting laws after losses in the 2020 election.

Ron Weiser, chairman of the Michigan GOP, told the North Oakland Republican Club Thursday night that the party wants to blend together bills proposed in the House and Senate for a petition initiative.

If Republicans gathered enough signatures — more than 340,000 would be needed — the GOP-controlled Legislature could approve the proposal into law without Whitmer being able to veto it.

Senate Republicans unveiled 39 bills Wednesday to require applicants for absentee ballots to present a copy of identification, overhaul large counties' canvassing boards and bar Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson from sending absentee ballot applications to voters unless they specifically request the applications.

"If that legislation is not passed by our Legislature, which I am sure it will be, but if it's not signed by the governor, then we have other plans to make sure that it becomes law before 2022," Weiser said, according to a video posted on social media.

Ron Weiser

"That plan includes taking that legislation and getting the signatures necessary for a legislative initiative so it can become law without Gretchen Whitmer's signature," Weiser added.

In states across the country this year, Republicans have advanced changes to voting laws after former President Donald Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden on Nov. 3 and made unproven claims of voter fraud.

Democrats argue that the national push is a continuation of Trump's effort to overturn the results and would restrict access to ballots in future elections to benefit the GOP's chances of winning. On Thursday, Weiser said Michigan Republican Party district chairs received a briefing on the Senate legislation from Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton.

"Those two pieces of legislation, melded together, are going to create an opportunity for us to have a fair election in 2022," Weiser said, referring to proposals in the House and Senate.

The Senate bills would place restrictions on ballot drop boxes and would bar local governments from providing prepaid postage for absentee ballot return envelopes as some did to encourage participation last year. Another bill would require voters without photo identification to vote through a provisional ballot.

Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said Michigan's elections are already fair and have been under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

"The fact that Republicans didn’t win as many races as they wanted to does not justify their attempt to silence voters," Ananich said.

During a Thursday morning appearance at the Michigan Chronicle's Pancakes and Politics event, Whitmer said she opposed the Republican election proposals.

"I have a veto pen, and I am ready to use that for any bill that is looking to make it harder for people in our state to vote," the governor said.

On Dec. 17, a ballot committee called Secure MI Vote was formed in Michigan, according to campaign finance disclosures. The group's treasurer is Paul Cordes, Weiser's chief of staff.

Lavora Barnes, chairwoman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said that 2.7 million Michigan residents voted in 2018 for "the most comprehensive reform to our election system in the state's history."

Among other changes, that constitutional amendment allowed for no-reason absentee voting. It passed with 67% support.

Republicans wouldn't be able to unilaterally change the state Constitution through an initiative petition.

"The voters have spoken on election reform," Barnes said. "The MIGOP has decided to ignore the will of the voters with this ridiculous package of bills designed to make it harder to vote, especially for Black and Brown citizens.

"This is how the Michigan Republicans do business. First, they lose. Then they lie. And then they find ways to suppress the vote, because even they know that when people vote, Democrats win."

The Michigan GOP didn't immediately return a request Friday morning for comment.

But during Thursday's presentation, Weiser said the party plans to have a program to back its upcoming initiative, in which the state organization will pay local county parties to gather signatures. The county parties will then use the money they receive to support local candidates, the chairman said. 

"Having those people be successful is so important to the future of our country," Weiser said.