Michigan committee advances bills expanding voting ID requirements

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News
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Lansing — A Michigan committee gave its first approvals Wednesday to proposals in the controversial 39-bill Republican overhaul of the state's election laws, setting up potential votes in the full Senate in the coming days.

The Senate Elections Committee voted 3-1, along party lines, to advance bills that would increase identification requirements for residents looking to vote in person or by mail. One of the bills approved by the panel Wednesday would mandate that voters seeking absentee ballots submit personal identifying information, like their driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number, or a copy of ID to vote through the mail.

Another would end a policy that currently allows in-person voters without a photo ID on hand to sign an affidavit to cast their ballots. Under the new proposal, they would have to use a provisional ballot and return later to verity their identity so their votes could be counted.

Denise Crapps of Detroit uses social distancing while voting at Precinct 282 on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Detroit.

Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, chairwoman of the Senate Elections Committee, called the bills advanced Wednesday among the most important in the larger package. She contended that the changes to ID requirements are needed as the use of mail-in voting increases and after a constitutional amendment in 2018 allowed for no-reason absentee voting.

"We need to make sure we have the checks and balances in the system," Johnson said. "You have to have ID to buy beer, even a fishing license."

Democrats blasted the bills, arguing that Republicans were trying to change the state's election laws to make it harder to vote.

"By suggesting voters include a photocopy of their ID with their absentee ballot request form, lawmakers are exposing voters to identity theft," Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said. "And prohibiting the use of a signed and sworn affidavit to confirm a voter’s identity will only increase the number of votes that never get counted."

The identification debate has been part of a national push among GOP lawmakers to change state voting laws after former President Donald Trump's loss in the 2020 election. Trump and his supporters have levied unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud in battleground states' elections. Trump lost Michigan by about 154,000 votes, or 3 percentage points, to Democrat Joe Biden.

Aghogho Edevbie, Michigan director of the group All Voting is Local, called the bills approved Wednesday an attempt at voter suppression.

"Any time that you're going to inconvenience a voter for no reason, that's voter suppression," Edevbie said. "The current system has worked for decades. It's worked effectively. It's fair. It's safe. It's secure. And there's no evidence that it needs to change.

"So if you're changing the system that works that's going to inconvenience a voter,  you're engaging in voter suppression."

Johnson and Ron Weiser, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, said there is support for ID requirements among voters in the state.

"When half of Michigan’s voters don’t have confidence in the integrity of our elections, doing nothing is not an option," Weiser said. "Election results should not be controversial, and the unilateral changes to our elections by Secretary Benson have undermined the confidence our democracy requires."

Johnson, the former Republican secretary of state, said people need ID to do "just about anything right now."

She plans to have her committee approve other pieces of the 39-bill package in the future. Michigan Senate Republicans unveiled their initial proposals on March 24. They said their bills would ensure integrity and "restore trust" in the voting process.

Among the bills in the package are proposals to bar the secretary of state from sending out absentee ballot applications unless voters request them, change how canvassing boards operate in large counties and place new regulations on absentee ballot drop boxes.

Benson, the top election official in the state, has labeled the bills "poisonous" and "an attack on our democracy."

To become law, the bills would have to be approved by the GOP-controlled Senate and the House and would have to gain Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's signature, which is unlikely.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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