Michigan Republicans launching petition drive to require IDs for voting

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Republicans unveiled Monday a petition campaign to try to impose new identification requirements for voters and go around Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to put the policies into law.

A committee called Secure MI Vote planned to turn in its proposed petition language to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's department, the first step toward pursuing an initiative. The group wants to mandate that voters present photo ID to cast their ballots in person and those wishing to use absentee ballots submit their driver's license number, state personal ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number.

The ideas have been at the center of a controversial 39-bill package Senate Republicans introduced in May, and their inclusion in the initiative is likely to prompt heated debate in the battleground state that is expected to spill into the 2022 gubernatorial election.

Saul Grunfeld votes during a special election for an Oak Park Schools bond proposal at the Oak Park Community Center, May 4, 2021.

The new petition campaign came amid GOP efforts in multiple states to change voting laws after Donald Trump's loss in November. The Republican former president has levied unsubstantiated claims that voter fraud cost him his race against Democrat Joe Biden.

"After the 2016 and 2020 elections, voters on both sides of the political spectrum questioned the integrity of the election," a statement from Secure MI Vote said Monday. "Secure MI Vote seeks to restore confidence in our elections by making it easier to vote and harder to cheat, giving every legal Michigan voter confidence that their vote is not diluted by illegal or fraudulent votes."

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 proposal, the governor has no say and can't block it.

Secure MI Vote formed in December, according to campaign finance disclosures. Its initial treasurer was Paul Cordes, who is chief of staff for Ron Weiser, chairman of 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.

Asked about the Republican Party's participation in the initiative, Jamie Roe, a Republican political consultant who is helping with Secure MI Vote, said people "from across the party" are involved.

The new GOP initiative is about "creating barriers to voting so fewer people have access to the polls," said Lavora Barnes, chairwoman of the Michigan Democratic Party.

"Michigan Republicans will try every trick in the book to confuse and intimidate voters," Barnes said in a statement. "They want fewer people to vote because they just discovered what we have always known: When people vote, Democrats win."

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.

The Michigan Senate approved similar bills in party-line votes in June. Republicans contended the changes would boost election integrity and were supported by voters, according to polls they cited.

"Secure MI Vote enjoys strong public support because it makes voting easier and cheating harder," the committee's statement said Monday. "We will collect the required signatures to put this initiative before the state Legislature, and we are confident it will be enacted into law."

The proposal would create a "Voter Access Fund" to provide identification cards to those who face financial hardship and appropriates $3 million for the effort.

Democrats have said the Senate legislation to increase ID requirements was politically motivated and would lead to identity theft by having people submit additional personal information through the mail. At the time, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said Republicans were "lying to people" because the state already has voter ID requirements that work.

"People literally stormed the Capitol based on the president and others lying about it," the Democratic Senate leader said of the 2020 election. "Instead of saying, 'No. That wasn't true. It was a fair election,' they're continuing to lie. And it's dangerous."

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.

Republicans criticized the move, but a record 3.3 million absentee votes were cast in Michigan's Nov. 3 election. Benson has argued in favor of sending out absentee ballot applications to registered voters ahead of every federal election cycle going forward. The idea is an example of normalizing things that worked in the 2020 election, she argued in February.

The Secure MI Vote proposal would also ban outside corporate entities from funding election administration functions.