Signature check policy to be dropped from Michigan election bill, sponsor says

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A proposal that would force in-person voters in Michigan to undergo signatures checks, even if they have photo ID with them, will likely be removed from a bill in the state Senate, its sponsor said this week.

The signature requirement was not in the original proposal by Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, but Republican lawmakers in the state House added it. In an interview, Barrett said he believes a consensus has been reached in favor of dropping the policy and moving forward with a focus on photo ID alone.

"It’s just simpler to have people bring their ID," Barrett said. "If they don’t have their ID, we’re going to make them available for free."

Voters fill out their ballots at the Oak Park Community Center.

Barrett's legislation is part of the 39-bill Senate Republican package to overhaul Michigan's voting laws after the 2020 presidential election. It's already passed the Senate and the House but because of the changes made in the House, it will have to be voted on again.

On Tuesday, The Detroit News detailed concerns clerks in Michigan had with the signature-checking requirement for in-person voters, including the fact that people's signatures can change over time, like House Speaker Jason Wentworth's own signature on public documents.

Under current law, the offices of local clerks examine the signatures of voters casting absentee ballots, comparing them with the signatures in the state's qualified voter file, usually the one on their driver's license, to verify identities. That work can take weeks for professional staff leading up to an election. Often, officials make calls to investigate further if signatures don't match.

At polling places in Michigan, however, people voting in person present photo ID to verify they are who they say they are. If they don't have an ID, they sign an affidavit, stating they don't have ID with them.

Barrett's bill says in-person voters should be forced to cast provisional ballots if they don't have photo ID with them. A provisional ballot requires voters to return within six days to verify their identity.  The House changed the bill to say that people whose signature on their application to vote doesn't match the signature in the state file also would have to cast a provisional ballot. The determination would be made in real time by election inspectors at polling places.

Mary Clark, a Democrat and the Delta Township clerk, has said she's concerned about challengers working on behalf of political parties and getting involved in targeting signatures at the polling places.

"That doesn’t do anything but sound like voter intimidation," Clark said.

Earlier this week, Rep. Ann Bollin, R-Brighton Township, the chairwoman of the House Elections Committee, said the legislation needed to be "clarified."

"The intent is that we want voters to be able to properly ID themselves when they go to the polls," Bollin said.

The Michigan Senate's next scheduled session day is July 15.

cmauger@detroitnews.com