Despite several reports from government and election officials finding no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, Republican lawmakers and some voters are pushing for tighter voting laws across the U.S. -- including here in Michigan.
An initiative called Secure MI Vote is collecting petition signatures in support of altering Michigan’s election code in an effort to tighten voter and election laws. Organizers argue that in order to ensure a fair election, it is necessary to require Michigan voters to present a photo ID, to limit how absent voter ballots are distributed, how funds are used during elections and more.
The initiative is proposing quite a bit of change, and we’re going to break down everything you need to know.
What is a petition drive?
With a number of petition initiatives floating around Michigan this year, we want to make sure you’re familiar with all of the facts.
Michigan is one of more than 20 states that allows citizens to propose, revise or repeal laws by collecting a certain number of petition signatures from registered voters. Depending on the type of initiative, if petition organizers collect the required number of signatures, their proposal would either go to the state legislature for approval, or directly on the ballot of the next general election for voters to decide on.
The Secure MI Vote initiative is considered an initiated state statute (ISS), which means it will require just over 340,000 signatures to be considered valid. The number of required signatures varies depending on initiative type, and is based on the number of votes cast for the governor in the state’s last election.
Initiative organizers are hoping to send their proposal directly to Michigan’s GOP-majority Legislature for approval if enough signatures are gathered. If legislators were to approve such a measure, it would not go on the ballot.
What is the Secure MI Vote petition drive about?
Secure MI Vote is an initiative launched by Republican voters looking to tighten Michigan’s voting and election laws.
The initiative proposes to amend, or change, nine sections of Michigan’s election code, in addition to adding three new sections to it. The proposal focuses on a few key points:
- Stepping up photo ID requirements;
- Eliminating and replacing the affidavit voting option;
- Preventing the mailing of unsolicited absent voter ballots and applications;
- Establishing a “Voter Access Fund;” and
- Limiting how election funds are acquired and spent.
Let’s break down these points and their significance a bit more.
Proposed photo ID requirements
The state of Michigan already requires residents to present photo identification when registering to vote, and voters are required to present photo ID when voting in person.
However, the state currently allows voters who cannot present a photo ID to cast their vote using a signed affidavit, through which they declare their identity and residence under penalty of perjury. Those affidavits are then reviewed and either approved or rejected by election officials.
Secure MI Vote is seeking to eliminate the affidavit voting option altogether. Instead, under their proposal, voters who cannot present valid identification would vote using a provisional ballot. That ballot would only be counted if the voter later confirms their identity with their local clerk, which would have to be done within six days of voting.
Individuals hoping to vote absentee using an absent voter ballot wouldn’t have to show a physical copy of their photo ID under the proposal, but they would be required to write their drivers license number or the last four digits of their social security number on their ballot to confirm their identity.
Secure MI Vote supporters argue that tighter photo ID laws would help prevent fraudulent voting. After several recounts and analyses both locally and nationally, no widespread voter fraud was discovered in last year’s election.
In the 2020 presidential election, only 0.2% of Michiganders voted using a signed affidavit (without a photo ID), according to Bridge Michigan -- which is 11,400 votes out of 5.5 million total votes cast in the state.
Critics argue that ID requirements like those outlined in Secure MI Vote’s initiative would put a burden on voters who do not have IDs and cannot easily obtain them, specifically older and low-income populations. The American Civil Liberties Union says that strict ID voting laws not only disproportionately affect minorities, but also “deprive many voters of their right to vote, reduce participation, and stand in direct opposition to our country’s trend of including more Americans in the democratic process.”
Restricting how absent voter ballots can be sent
Under Secure MI Vote’s proposal, election officials would not be allowed to send absent voter ballots or ballot applications to registered voters unless a voter specifically requested one.
Absent voter ballots allow residents to vote by mail ahead of Election Day. In Michigan, anyone can vote absentee for any reason as of 2018 -- and many chose to do so for elections that took place in 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Ahead of last year’s elections, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson sent absent voter ballot applications -- not actual ballots -- to millions of registered voters to alert them of the option to vote by mail. Secure MI Vote is looking to prevent Benson, any local clerk or any of their employees from sending or “providing access to” unsolicited absent voter applications or ballots.
The state of Michigan recorded its highest voter turnout -- especially among absentee voters -- in history in the 2020 General Election. The 3.3 million Michigan absent voter ballots cast in November 2020 beat the state’s previous record of 1.6 million votes cast in the Aug. 2020 primary election. Before then, the highest number of absent voter ballots cast in Michigan was 1.3 million in the 2016 presidential election.
Benson’s sending of absent voter ballot applications last year drew criticism from GOP lawmakers and former President Donald Trump, who initially believed she was sending unsolicited ballots, not applications. The secretary of state defended her actions, however, arguing that it was necessary to present a remote voting option amid the ongoing public health crisis.
Voter Access Fund
The proposal seeks to create the Voter Access Fund, which would be overseen by the state treasury and would help cover costs for individuals looking to obtain formal identification required to vote.
Organizers propose that $3 million is allocated to that fund for the fiscal year ending in September of 2022.
Limiting election funding
Secure MI Vote is looking to prevent state and local election officials from accepting election funding from parties outside of the government. Private organizations would not be able to donate money or in-kind contributions toward any activity or item related to an election.
Instead, state and local governments would only be allowed to use money appropriated from the government on things like voting equipment, polling places, outreach, etc.
Supporters of the proposal argue that funds acquired from outside sources could lead to bias and unfairness with how elections are carried out. However, there are some communities, both urban and rural, that benefit from and count on private donations.
Where things stand
The Secure MI Vote petition drive is still ongoing. It is uncertain how many signatures have been acquired so far.
The Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature recently attempted to pass stricter voting laws, similar to what is being proposed by Secure MI Vote. But those efforts were vetoed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
On Oct. 3, Whitmer vetoed three bills -- House Bills 4837, 4838 and 4492 -- which she said aimed to suppress votes or perpetuate the “Big Lie” in order to discredit the 2020 election. On Oct. 17, Whitmer vetoed two more bills aimed at making sweeping changes to the state’s election code -- the latest of dozens the governor has vowed will stop at her desk.
“I will have no part in any effort that grants an ounce of credence to this deception (the ‘Big Lie’), so injurious to our democracy,” Whitmer wrote in a letter to legislators last month. “The 2020 election was free, secure, and accurate. The results were certified and officially audited by trusted local election officials, as required by law. Judges appointed by both Republicans and Democrats rejected more than 60 lawsuits challenging the outcome.”
There were still 35 election-related bills making their way through the legislature as of October.
Whitmer is up for reelection next year.
You can read the entire Secure MI Vote proposal below.
More: Michigan politics