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Gov. Whitmer vetoes four election bills at NAACP dinner

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed four bills Sunday night that she said would "weaken voting rights" and suppress votes in Michigan.

Speaking at the Detroit NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner, she said the goal of the bills was to "perpetuate the big lie," the false claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

"I've done a lot of signing ceremonies when I sign bills," Whitmer said to a standing ovation from attendees at the event, whose theme was "Don't Rest on Your Freedom." "Tonight, I'm going to sign the veto letter in front of you."

While vetoing the bills, she also promised to reject more controversial voting bills that are making their way from the Senate. The House bills vetoed by the Democratic governor passed mostly along party lines in the Senate but had wider support from Democratic lawmakers in the House.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed legislation Sunday at the NAACP's Annual Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner in Detroit. The governor told the crowd the bills would "weaken voting rights" and suppress votes. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey criticized the governor's veto, accusing her of playing politics.

At least one of the vetoed bills was introduced in prior sessions, before the 2020 election, said Rep. Ann Bollin, the Brighton Township Republican who chairs the House Elections and Ethics Committee. All of the bills were meant to expand and strengthen access to the voting booth, Bollin said.

"This has nothing to do with perpetuating a lie," Bollin said. "We found a weakness in the process and there is always an opportunity to improve. Who could think we had the largest election during a pandemic and there would be absolutely no room for improvement? I think we would be foolish to think that.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey criticized the governor's veto, accusing her of playing politics after she spent months alleging Republicans were playing politics with the elections.

"It should not be overlooked that these were sound, bipartisan bills that would have improved our elections, pure and simple," said Shirkey, R-Clarklake. "The sad reality is that when the governor has to lead, rather than hide behind executive orders and mandates, there is no substance."

The legislation would have expanded the number of places to be used as polling locations and required the creation of comprehensive training for challengers at polling places and absent voter counting boards. 

Two other vetoed House bills would allow only certain individuals access to the qualified voter file and prohibit the electronic poll book at precincts or absentee voter counting boards from being connected to the internet until all results have been tabulated.

The bill that allows the establishment of polling locations at senior housing facilities and clubhouses at apartment complexes, conference centers or golf courses passed 21-15 in the Senate and was concurred in by the House, 84-21.

Bollin, a former Brighton Township clerk, said she introduced the expanded polling location bill at the urging of other clerks last session.

"It never made it over the finish line because the parties were wrangling over it," Bollin said.

The bill requiring training of election challengers in the 90-day period before an election also passed 21-15 in the Senate and was concurred in 81-24 in the House. Whitmer said the legislation is worth further consideration but lacks proper funding for implementation.

Democrats have criticized the bills that would require election equipment to be disconnected from the internet or bar third-party access to the qualified voter file because those rules already are largely in place and followed. Critics said they didn't oppose the policy so much as the impression the legislation gives that the state has struggled with those issues, a perpetuation, they say, of the "Big Lie." 

Current practice prohibits connections between election equipment and the internet and bars third-party access — outside of the Bureau of Elections and local election clerks — to the qualified voter file.

But some of the affidavits in since-discarded, post-election litigation alleged without proof that some election software was connected to the internet during the 2020 election.

Additionally, Republicans have pointed to the Department of State’s work with Rock the Vote as misguided proof that civic groups had access to the qualified voter file. The department clarified in recent months that its work with Rock the Vote involved a secure interface that would allow organizations to “collect voter registration applications electronically and securely submit them to Michigan’s online voter registration system.”

“When voter registration applications were submitted to the online voter registration tool by a group using the API (application programming interface), that organization’s name is indicated only for record-keeping purposes,” the Department of State website said. “This does not mean the group can log into or edit that registration of the Qualified Voter File – they cannot do so.”

The qualified voter file access bill passed 21-15 in the Senate and was concurred in 72-33 the House. The bill banning internet access to electronic poll book passed 77-31 in the House and 21-15 in the Senate.

Whitmer was first elected governor in 2018. She is expected to run for reelection in 2022.

Whitmer encouraged those present to lobby congressional leaders to pass comprehensive voting reform and to decline to sign petitions that would help enact voting restrictions. If the petitions succeed, state legislators could pass election reforms that Whitmer would be unable to veto.

"We have to stand up and take an active role in this," Whitmer said, "because every one of us should protect our vote."