Split Michigan Legislature approves election-related bills

In this Oct. 29, 2020, photo, voters line up as the doors open to the Election Center for absentee early voting for the general election in Sterling Heights, Mich. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (David Goldman, Copyright 2020 Associated Press)

The Michigan Legislature on Thursday passed election bills that would limit who can access the state voter file, keep voting equipment from being connected to the internet and require election challengers to receive training.

The legislation sent to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was supported by majority Republicans and opposed by all but one Senate Democrat and many House Democrats.

The bills blocking outside groups' access to the voter database and prohibiting the connection of electronic pollbooks or voting systems to the internet would codify existing practice.

“It's a good idea to take this bill and take the best practices and put them into law so they can't be changed," Sen. Ruth Johnson, a Holly Republican and former secretary of state, said of the internet-connection legislation.

Senate Democrats said the bills are unnecessary and expressed concern that voting for them would corroborate lies about the 2020 presidential election. A GOP-led Senate committee, for instance, found no evidence that vote tabulators at Detroit's absentee counting operation were connected to the internet, debunking claims from some Republican poll challengers.

“We should not be passing bills in this chamber for things that already do not exist because all that does is perpetuate and validate a lie that is dangerous,” said Sen. Mallory McMorrow, a Royal Oak Democrat.

One bill would require election challengers to attend training offered by the secretary of state and each clerk in the 90-day period before an election and boost training for election inspectors about challengers' role. If challengers completed the training before a primary, they would not need to repeat it for the general election.

Another measure would expand the types of buildings that can be polling places. One would update procedures for canceling the registrations of dead voters.

Most bills were passed 21-15 in the Senate and on votes ranging between 72-33 and 84-21 in the House.

The Senate also voted on party lines for legislation that would require the state elections board to canvass signatures for a ballot initiative within 100 days of the filing. It currently must make a determination no more than 100 days before the election in which the proposal would appear on the ballot.

Unlock Michigan, a Republican-affiliated group that successfully wiped from the books a law Whitmer used to issue COVID-19 orders, has complained it took too long for the petitions to be reviewed. State officials have said they were busy preparing for the presidential election and doing postelection audits, and the deadline was not until 2022.

The House passed a similar bill in April.


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