Gov. Whitmer directs state agencies to look for ways to help residents register to vote

Hayley Harding
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive directive Sunday designed to make it easier for people to register to vote when they interact with the state government.

Speaking during the 67th NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner in Detroit, she said she directed state departments and agencies that interact with the public in any way to find ways to help Michiganians register to vote.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer attend a press conference Sunday before the NAACP Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner at Huntington Place in Detroit.

"We have to fight back for our right to vote," Whitmer said to thousands of attendees at the dinner. "We must work to expand access to the ballot."

She said attacks on voting rights typically hurt most communities of color, senior citizens and younger people. By making it easier to register, she said, it would make it easier to ensure all Michigan residents have the chance to vote.

Under the directive, departments and agencies must consider whether there are more ways to share information about voting. That includes social media posts, displays in public spaces, printed materials and more. Entities also must consider "whether there are ways to increase opportunities for the department or agency’s employees to vote or volunteer to serve as non-partisan poll workers, consistent with applicable rules" or if offices could serve as voter registrations agencies.

The departments and agencies must provide a report on the opportunities within the next 60 days. The Department of State is directed then to take the information and implement ideas where possible.

“Democracy is a team sport, and this directive sets a clear vision for state agencies to join our department in working to ensure every eligible voter is active and engaged in our democracy,” said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in a release when Whitmer signed the directive. “At a time when many want to make it more difficult for us to have secure and accessible elections, I’m grateful to Governor Whitmer for working with us to expand voting access to every citizen in Michigan.” 

The governor, a Democrat, has taken other action she said would help to protect the right to vote. That includes just last week vetoing legislation that would include information on an absentee ballot application informing a potential voter that it is a felony to vote more than once in the same election. 

"Every citizen of Michigan has a constitutionally guaranteed right to vote and should be free to exercise this right without obstruction," Whitmer said in her veto letter, arguing the legislation aimed to "chill access to the ballot." 

It is not the first time Whitmer has announced action on voting rights during an NAACP dinner. In October, during the 66th NAACP Freedom Fund dinner, she vetoed four bills that she said would "weaken voting rights" and suppress the right to vote in the state.

All of the bills were meant to expand and strengthen access to the voting booth, said Rep. Ann Bollin, a Brighton Township Republican, at the time.

"This has nothing to do with perpetuating a lie," said Bollin, who chairs the House Elections and Ethics Committee. "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?" 

At both October's dinner and the one held Sunday, Whitmer promised to further support the right to vote.

"Keep introducing this garbage, it will meet the same fate," she said, referring to bills by the GOP-led Legislature.

Twitter: @Hayley__Harding