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State House sends election bills to Senate

A sign welcomes East Lansing voters during the Aug. 2, 2022 primary election at a precinct at Martin Luther Chapel.
Sarah Lehr
A sign welcomes East Lansing voters during the Aug. 2, 2022 primary election at a precinct at Martin Luther Chapel.

Democrats in the Michigan Legislature are lining up bills to make it easier for more people to vote.

Democratic lawmakers say the bills give meaning to voter-approved voting rights amendments to the Michigan Constitution. Republicans say the majority party is abusing its power to expand ballot access beyond what voters intended.

The Michigan House Elections Committee held a hearing Tuesday on bills to register more eligible voters. That would include 18-year-olds who are issued a driver’s license or official state ID, people who apply for Medicaid, or people who have some other contact with the state that also proves their eligibility.

Canton Township Clerk Michael Siegrist was among the local election officials who showed up to testify. He said automatic registration and electronic coordination of registered voter records would help clean up voter rolls.

“And it will increase voter registration,” he said. “It will hopefully drive turnout and it will decrease the likelihood of deadwood on the voter rolls, which are individuals who are registered multiple, multiple times, something like that, stuff that we routinely try to get rid of.”

The package would also allow for people and organizations to pay for buses, taxis or other transportation to the polls. There’s a question as to whether hiring transportation to take people to the polls amounts to offering voters something of value. This would eliminate that uncertainty.

“It sounds like this is going to save time. It’s going to save money and just maybe, maybe and hopefully, it can help save democracy,” said Representative Dylan Wegela (D-Garden City), who is the committee’s Democratic vice chair.

But Republicans said Democrats are rushing the bills without meaningful hearings. Also, that bills blow past standards set by constitutional amendments approved by voters in recent elections.

Representative Jay DeBoyer (R-Clay Township) is one of two Republicans on the elections committee and a former local clerk. He said Democrats’ proposed election changes go beyond what voters approved on ballot proposals to amend the state Constitution.

“Yes, the people spoke. Sixty percent of Michiganders approved Prop 2 and approved Prop 3 in ’18. But the things that are in these bills expand beyond those propositions, which to me compromises the integrity of our elections at the end of the day.”

DeBoyer also said some of the bills might win his support, but Democrats are rushing them through so quickly he and other Republicans have not been given time to examine them before committee hearings.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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