Michigan groups seek 9 days of early voting, kill Legislature-adopted petitions

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Michigan voting rights groups on Monday launched a petition that would open polls nine days before election day for early voting and require the state to pay for absentee ballot postage, among other ideas.

The Promote MI Vote 2022 ballot initiative also would ensure secure ballot drop boxes in every community and a tracking system for voters to track the status of absentee ballots. The proposal would allow voters to request absentee ballots for all future elections, require the state to keep its existing voter ID requirements, let election officials accept third party donations, and ensure that any military or overseas ballot postmarked before Election Day and received within six days after an election still is counted. 

The proposed constitutional amendment appears to counter the efforts of separate petition initiatives, Secure MI Vote, which would tighten voter identification rules, and Audit Michigan, which would set up an audit board made up of party delegates. If all three are adopted, Promote MI Vote's constitutional language would likely trump the audit and Secure MI Vote proposals because they only amend state law.  

"Our goal is simple really: To continue building a voting system that works for everyone in Michigan," said Khalilah Spencer, president for Promote the Vote Michigan. "Voter freedom and power are critical to success of our state and country.”

Avis Briggs pushes her ballot into a tabulator at Precinct 16 inside Pontiac High School in Pontiac on Nov. 2, 2021.

Promote the Vote is joined in boosting the petition by Voters Not Politicians, All Voting is Local, the League of Women Voters of Michigan and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. 

Unlike a petition amending state law, which requires 340,047 valid signatures, the Promote MI Vote 2022 initiative will need to gather 425,059 signatures because of the higher threshold for constitutional amendments. The petition committee said it already has hundreds of volunteer circulators at a time when 10 petition initiatives have spread thin signature-gathering help across the state. 

The Promote the Vote 2022 petition would seek to keep allowing clerks to receive charitable donations to fund elections; require audits to be conducted by state and county officials while barring the involvement of any political party officials; and cement the role of canvassers in certifying election results. 

"It makes crystal clear that the people of Michigan and not the Legislature decides the outcomes of elections in our state,” said Nancy Wang of Voters Not Politicians.

Advocates said Michigan voters want more than just the ability to mail in a ballot ahead of the election. Instead, early voting would allow voters to cast their ballot in-person up to nine days ahead of time. 

"There are many states across this country that have early voting, where a voter can actually put their ballot directly in the tabulator," said Aghogho Edevbie of All Voting is Local. "...Local election officials can come together within their counties to ensure they have the proper resources to combine their efforts."

The petition is one of 10 seeking enough signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot, although some of the more conservative proposals are expecting adoption by the GOP-led Legislature instead of going before voters. 

The ballot proposals that have already received technical approvals from the Michigan Board of State Canvassers include ones that would tighten voter ID rules, limit public health orders, create tax-incentivized education scholarships, require another audit of the 2020 presidential election, place stricter limits on short-term loans, increase the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour, allow "good time credits" for prison inmates, and enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution. 

A separate initiative introduced earlier this month and still awaiting technical approvals would make changes to the state's petition and referendum rules. 

The MI Right to Vote campaign proposes a constitutional amendment that would prevent the Legislature from adding appropriations to laws to protect them from referendum, and attach increases in required signatures to increased time periods for circulation. 

The initiative also would require that every petition with the proper number of signatures go to the ballot instead of allowing adoption by the Legislature. 

A second part of the initiative would "explicitly provide" that voting rights are fundamental and prevent the Legislature from enacting laws that increase burdens on voters. Any voting law guarding against voting abuses has to be propped up by "specific legislative findings" of abuse.