Voting, payday lending ballot drives advance in Michigan

BELOIT, WISCONSIN - NOVEMBER 03: Stickers ready to be passed out to residents after they vote at the Beloit Public Library on November 03, 2020 in Beloit, Wisconsin. After a record-breaking early voting turnout, Americans head to the polls on the last day to cast their vote for incumbent U.S. President Donald Trump or Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) (Scott Olson, 2020 Getty Images)

DELTA TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Ballot drives to expand voting options, restrict payday loans and overhaul Michigan's citizens initiative process cleared steps before the state elections board Friday, enabling organizers to start collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot.

The canvassers approved summaries to appear atop five petitions that will be circulated to the public.

Promote the Vote wants to create more than a week of early voting, let all voters request an absentee ballot for future elections and require prepaid postage on return envelopes. Its constitutional amendment — proposed months after Republicans launched a veto-proof initiative they contend would improve election integrity but which Democrats say would curtail voting — also would prohibit attempts to “unreasonably” burden the right to vote and enshrine the board's duty to certify results after Donald Trump’s unprecedented attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

Michiganders for Fair Lending hopes to slash interest rates payday lenders charge and that have to be repaid within two weeks. The ballot committee, like Promote the Vote, appears to have financial support needed to disseminate petitions broadly.

Also advancing were two proposed constitutional amendments backed by MI Right to Vote. One has similarities to the Promote the Vote measure. The other would allow more time to gather signatures for ballot drives, allow voter referendums on laws that spend money and eliminate the ability of the Legislature to pass initiated bills without the governor's signature. Instead, initiatives would go to voters like constitutional revisions already do.

Canvassers also OK'd the summary of a petition to decriminalize the production and possession of psychedelic mushrooms.

All told, canvassers have approved summaries for a dozen active 2022 ballot drives — including those that would raise the minimum wage, limit the length of emergency pandemic restrictions without legislative approval and enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.

Khalilah Spencer, board president of Promote the Vote, which successfully led a 2018 constitutional amendment that expanded absentee voting and authorized same-day registration, said “we’re looking forward to engaging directly with Michigan voters about our proposed common-sense voting reforms.”

The proposal would, among other things, keep intact voters' option to sign an affidavit if they do not have a photo ID and clerks' checking of absentee voters' signature to verify identity.

The Republican-affiliated Secure MI Vote wants to require additional information on absentee ballot applications — like the last four digits of a Social Security number or a copy of one's photo ID — and to make voters without an ID later verify their identity for their vote to count. Spokesperson Jamie Roe said Promote the Vote's measure “is unnecessary, expensive and harmful to secure elections.”

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