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New voter registration bills pass to Mich. House

April 23, 2012

Some lawmakers and student groups are worried a package of bills headed to the Michigan House could make it significantly harder for campus organizations to register voters.

A package of bills slated for discussion today in the House Redistricting and Elections Committee would add more requirements for third party groups to register voters, requiring leaders to pass a government-run certification class before kicking off election drives. It also would require applicants to present photo identification and swear under oath that they are a U.S. citizen.

The issue quickly has become a divisive debate in Michigan, reflecting a national partisan conflict about how to regulate democracy’s most fundamental practice.

Republican supporters, who passed the bill through the Senate in February, have said the bills’ goal is to beef up election security.

“This is a good caution effort to ensure we have very legal and proper elections,” Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said.

But it is being denounced by some Democratic student groups as a painstaking hoop to jump through in order to hold election drives on campus; House Democrats have even called it a concerted effort by Republicans to squelch youth and minority votes — demographics that historically have leaned to the left.

The law, which tentatively would take effect June 1, would require one member of a third party registrant organization to pass a training course and educate other members.

MSU student volunteers from President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign said they’re ramping up efforts to register students, on the chance the bills are passed in the midst of their April election drive.

“This could be a problem, absolutely,” said Kelli Beavers, an MSU student volunteer for Obama’s campaign. “We have volunteers, and we can get 10 people out in a day. It’s much harder to get 10 deputized people and do that.”

Aides to Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Township, who sponsored the bill, did not respond to requests for comment.

East Lansing officials said such a requirement likely would help students, reducing registration mistakes that frustrate election officials and young voters.

During the last six weeks, city officials said they’ve received hundreds of applications from students currently living in the dorms, who will have to change their address before the presidential election.

“For many of them, this is the first time that they vote, and we want to make sure they do it right,” City Clerk and Assistant City Manager Marie McKenna said.

While she supports the idea, McKenna noted the plan still is murky — critical details such as who would run such a course and how long the process would take have yet to be determined.

Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga, the ranking Democrat in the House Redistricting and Elections Committee, said the legislation intentionally aims to discourage student and minority voters.

“That absolutely is going to target those organizations that register students to vote,” Byrum said.
“This is another attempt from this administration to make it more difficult to vote.”

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