Hundreds gathered at the Michigan Capitol Tuesday to protest a series of Republican-backed legislation that would bring great change to voting in the state.
While the Republican Party claims the 39-bill package will make it easier to vote, they would require voters to submit photo identification, prohibit the mass mailing of absentee ballot applications and bar clerks from counting absentee ballots in the weeks prior to the election.
Hosted by the Detroit Branch of the NAACP, members of the government and various organizations came to show their support in ending voter oppression.
“Today’s event was really a response to the efforts by the Republican leadership to suppress the vote in certain communities in the state of Michigan,” member of the general council for the Detroit Branch of the NAACP Chui Karega said. “The bills are really designed to undermine the great turnout of people who showed their civic responsibility to cast their vote in the 2020 election.”
Karega cited the record-setting turnout of Republicans, Democrats and independents in the 2020 election, and said he thinks some politicians are disappointed that there are people who care about their vote.
“The government should be happy about that, but for some clear reason, they’re disappointed,” Karega said. “The public did a good job, and that’s why we’ve got all these bad bills coming through trying to undermine a good job, people who did the right thing — they voted.”
Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum deemed the bills to be unacceptable.
“The legislation that’s been introduced is terrifying when you’re looking at access to the ballot,” Byrum said. “This does nothing to secure the election, but it does everything to place barriers between people and the ballot.”
Byrum said she wants voters to know that voter access is not a partisan issue.
“Although these bills are all introduced and sponsored by Republicans, voter access is not a partisan issue,” Byrum said. “I implore people to come out in opposition of this legislation — people, businesses, organizations — because this is not a partisan issue, this is a democracy issue."
Karega praised the turnout of the event, deeming it wonderful how many people came to show their support.
“This is a middle-of-the-week event, folks had to take off from work to be here and yet they’re here,” Karega said. “So, that ought to be a message to Republicans that even if they’re successful in what they’re trying to do, people are still going to vote. You shouldn’t make it harder to vote, you should make it easier to vote.”
Karega encouraged people to mobilize and tell the sponsors of the legislation that it would be a bad idea to enact. He also encouraged people to call their legislators and express their thoughts on the bill package and called for people to ask Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to veto the package if it passes Congress.
The NAACP also saw support from members of other organizations at the rally.
“People should not be afraid of individuals voting,” Normandin said. “Voting is a basic right of citizenship, and when we force unrelenting rules on people and we push ridiculous bills through because we’re afraid of the outcome of a vote, that’s something that we really need to fight against.”
Normandin said she was pleased to be at the rally.
“At ADL, we believe in speaking up, sharing facts and showing strength,” Normandin said. “Today, we showed strength, we shared facts and we spoke up.”
She praised the over 30 members of the Michigan House who came out of the Capitol to show their support before a vote.
“It’s really, really great to see anybody come out, particularly members of the House who have some busy work to do today,” Normandin said.
Jason Peek, a member of United Auto Workers, came to show his support, too, as he said labor and civil rights have always gone hand in hand.
“As a labor activist, I think it’s also important that we stand for voting rights,” Peek said. “I’m here to support the rest of the citizens here to make sure we all have the right to vote.”
Karen Dunnam said she came out to the rally because she’s retired and part of retirement involves doing things one cares about and making the world a better place.
Thus, after not being able to properly celebrate the 100th anniversary of women being able to vote due to the coronavirus pandemic, this rally was important for her to attend.
“I wanted to support this effort because last year was the centennial of women’s suffrage; we sort of didn't get to celebrate that,” Dunnam said. “We need to not keep having to fight this fight.”
Detroit pastor Frank Harris deemed this moment a critical time to take a stand for such a topic we all have a voice to speak on.
He said whether or not the efforts have been effective must be gauged by the actions that unfold afterward.
Harris said he hopes the outcome leaves people with what they fought for and that everyone is equal and has a right to vote.
“It’s very, very incongruent to fight for something, get it and then you try to take it back from individuals,” Harris said. “We do this all the time. We’re having rallies after rallies, but we don't always see actual progress. So, that’s the hope — that after this moment, progress takes place.”
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