Michigan canvassers OK voting rules petition's summary, delay form approval

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Canvassers on Thursday approved the 100-word summary for a petition initiative that would make changes to Michigan's ID verification rules for in-person and absentee voters. 

But the bipartisan four-member panel delayed approval of the Secure MI Vote petition as to form because of several typos in the petition and a printer's affidavit that contained the wrong name of the petition.

Canvassers made a series of changes to the summary after opponents argued those signing the petition should know that, absent a photo ID or verification within six days at a clerk's office, their in-person ballot would not be counted under the proposed rules. 

Julie Matuzak, a Democratic member of the Michigan Board of State Canvassers, said Thursday she was ashamed to be a part of the system after the board approved a petition summary of an initiative to change voter ID requirements in Michigan's elections.

"For the first time in the history of our state, voters who show up at the polls who forget their ID on election day will not have their votes counted unless they find the time to return to their local clerk’s office during business office within six days of the election,” said Chris Trebilcock, a lawyer representing the opposing Promote MI Vote group.

The board voted unanimously to approve the summary language. They are scheduled to return Monday to vote on the petition's corrected form.

Echoing comments from other opponents, Democratic board member Julie Matuzak expressed concern that signers of the petition would not know that the petition would likely go to the Republican-controlled Legislature instead of voters. Matuzak said the loophole reflected an initiative process that is "broken" and "corrupted from its original form."

"The makers of this petition have been very clear that they do not expect or want this to go to a vote" of the people, Matuzak said. "...I’m appalled that I’m frankly part of this system.”

Jamie Roe, a spokesman for Secure MI Vote, said he expects the typos — 10 colons that instead appeared as Ls — will be corrected by the Monday vote. He expects the group will recruit signature gatherers at this weekend's Michigan GOP conference on Mackinac Island. 

"It doesn't slow us down at all," Roe said of the delay.

The petition would require photo ID for voters to cast their ballots in person and require absentee voters to submit their driver's license number, state personal ID number and the last four digits of their Social Security number.

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.

The petition initiative also would ban corporate entities from funding election administration and prohibit election officials from sending out absentee ballot applications without a specific request from a voter. Benson did just that ahead of the November 2020 election, but hasn't decided whether she will for the 2022 elections. 

The measures are similar to ones advanced by the GOP-majority Michigan Legislature — bills that have little chance of becoming law because they would require Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's signature. 

A petition initiative does not require Whitmer's approval.

When the summary language and form of the petition are approved, organizers must collect at least 340,047 valid signatures. After the Bureau of Elections verifies the signatures and the petition is certified, it can be sent to the Legislature for approval or to voters on the next ballot. Organizers have indicated the voting petition initiative would go directly to the Legislature. 

If lawmakers approve the proposal, the governor cannot block it. 

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.