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State House Democrats introduce new voting rights legislation

November 4, 2021
<p>Voters at Southside Community Center polling location filling out ballots Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.</p>

Voters at Southside Community Center polling location filling out ballots Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

Photo by Di'Amond Moore | The State News

Michigan House Democrats, joined by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, announced a set of bills Wednesday aimed to protect Michiganders’ right to vote.

The seven bills — H.B. 5513 through H.B. 5519 — are proposed in response to mainly Republican-backed election reform bills that many Democrats say could be harmful to the democratic process.

State House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, said that these politicians are not only “working to overturn the last election, but they’re laying the groundwork to overturn the next election.”

Lasinski said that this package of bills “not only removes obstacles and hurdles, but makes our elections free, fair and accessible for all.”

The Democrats cited the Proposal 3 ballot measure, passed in 2018, as evidence of Michigan residents being on board with the new proposed election reforms. The proposal changed the Michigan constitution to allow things like straight-ticket voting, automatic voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting — the measure passed with 2-to-1 support.

Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit, said her bill would allow individuals or organizations to sponsor rides to the polls for voters, which is currently illegal in Michigan. Whitsett said the measure would afford elderly or unenthusiastic voters more opportunities to vote.

Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, said his legislation would allow the pre-election processing of absentee ballots.

“I had every clerk in my district - Republican, Democrat, non-partisan - all of them asked for more time to pre-process ballots,” Koleszar said.

Koleszar’s bill, H.B. 5518, would allow clerks to begin tabulating ballots up to seven days before election day.

Rep. Amos O’Neal, D-Saginaw, sponsored H.B. 5513, which he said ensures that ballots postmarked by election day and received within 72 hours of an election will be counted.

“This makes voting fairer,” he said. “The mail can be unpredictable, as we know, and voters should not be penalized just because of that fact.”

Other measures included in the legislative package include several measures to reimburse municipalities for prepaid ballot postage and clarify the rights of Michigan residents to receive absentee ballots.

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, who noted that she was running on a “few hours of sleep but many shots of espresso” after overseeing the November 2021 election the previous night, endorsed this legislative package.

“Our democracy has been the victim of unprecedented attacks from malicious actors,” said Byrum on the one-year anniversary of the 2020 election.

She denounced the “dozens of bills (that) were introduced without consultation of election administrators” like her.

Byrum also discussed a series of election reform requests made by the Michigan Association of County Clerks and the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks, which she says were ignored by the Republican-controlled legislature. Now, she said these wishes have been heard by the Democratic caucus.

The measures will likely face scrutiny in the Republican-controlled State House. This package comes weeks after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed four Republican-backed elections bills that she said perpetuated the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen.

Rep. Ann Bolin, R-Brighton Twp, who is chair of the House Elections and Ethics Committee, said in a statement that while some proposals in the package may have merit, “so far none of the House Democrats have approached me to work collaboratively on them.”

“Other parts of the plan are clearly unworkable because they disregard important checks and balances that protect the integrity of our elections,” she continued. “This was nothing but a political stunt. My focus has been on working in a bipartisan manner to strengthen our elections and protect the vote. That will continue to be my focus.”

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