Written testimonies on the voting rights bills on April 28, 2021

Promote the Vote submits this written testimony regarding bills being considered by the Michigan Senate Committee on Elections on April 28, 2021. Promote the Vote supports SB 274 in concept, however critical changes are needed to the bill. Promote the Vote opposes Senate Bill Nos. 212, 280, 282, 287, 302 and 305

In 2018, the people of Michigan overwhelming voted to amend the Michigan Constitution to ensure that Michigan had a voting system that worked for everyone. Proposal 3 of 2018 contained critical provisions that were meant to increase voter participation and access to theballot. The proposal guaranteed all registered voters equal access to an absentee ballot and gave voters the freedom to choose whether to exercise that right in person or from home. The proposal also guaranteed the citizens of Michigan the right to register to vote at any time. The proposal also included specific provisions to ensure the accuracy of election results by requiring a statewide audit of election results by the Secretary of State.

Since the passage of Proposal 3, Michigan voters have enjoyed more freedom and convenience to vote, and the additional audit requirement confirmed the accuracy and integrity of the results. State and local election officials went to great lengths to ensure each and every eligible voter could exercise their right to vote during a worldwide pandemic. And Michigan voter participation has increased in the five elections since the passage of Proposal 3. For example, Michigan saw record-setting turnout in both the August and November 2020 elections, and hundreds of audits conducted by bipartisan and nonpartisan officials from across the state have confirmed the accuracy of the election results.

Promote the Vote supports policies that create a voting system that works for all of us, and so do the majority of voters. The voters in 80 of 83 Michigan counties voted in support of Proposal 3 of 2018 Unfortunately, the 39 bill package introduced in the Senate, including the bills before the Committee on Elections this week, bear no relationship to improving voter access and participation, and they would do nothing to increase the accuracy or integrity of our elections.

Instead, most of the proposals are clearly meant to make election administration more difficult and put needless barriers in the way of voters seeking to participate in the democratic process.  Even worse, these proposals are predicated on a false narrative rather than reliable data or analysis.  These bills were developed without consulting with state and local election officials who have the responsibility to administer elections in Michigan, nor state or national experts with knowledge of election administration best practices.   As a result, these bills would erect new barriers to voting for the people of Michigan, reduce civic participation in our state, and do nothing to increase the security of our elections.


Senate Bill 274 Requires Critical Amendments to Avoid Disparately Impacting Young People Who Lack Access to a SOS Office, a Car or Public Transportation

Prior to the passage of Proposal 3 of 2018, Michigan made it difficult for young people to participate in our democracy and as a result, the state had lower rates of participation by young people.  Promote the Vote supports pre-registration of young people to ensure eligible citizens become registered to vote when they turn 18.  To do this, Michigan should enact a system that allows young people to easily pre-register at a variety of convenient locations in their communities.

Instead, SB 274 limits pre-registration to those young people with a Michigan driver’s license or state ID card, although fewer and fewer young people are obtaining such documentation.  SB 274 also unnecessarily restricts pre-registration to the Secretary of State branch office despite the challenges of visiting such an office for young people in rural communities, and those without access to a car or public transportation.  Of the 19 states that allow 16- and 17-year olds to preregister to vote, 17 of them allow all eligible teens to pre-register — not just those who have a driver’s license or state ID — and allow pre-registration by all methods available for voter registration.  SB 274 should be amended to follow these national best practices.


Senate Bill 282 Unnecessarily Limits Access to Michigan’s Voter Registration Database

SB 282 would eliminate access to Michigan’s voter registration database for critical individuals who need access to administer elections, like staff in your local city, township, and county clerk’s office.  The bill would also exclude access to critical staff responsible for managing the security of Michigan’s voter registration data.  Yet, the bill would extend access to individuals who do not need it and appears to be aimed at undermining Michigan’s convenient, online voter registration system and the tools developed to make that system more accessible for all. In addition to being harmful as written, this bill is unnecessary because Michigan already limits and controls who has access to and can edit the information in Michigan’s voter registration database to trusted officials and staff.  This bill appears to be predicated on misinformation about how Michigan’s voter registration database works.


Senate Bill 287 Would Restrict the Freedom of Voters, Election Officials and Local Communities to Provide Prepaid Postage on Absentee Ballots

Millions and millions of Michigan voters exercised their constitutional right to vote at home by absentee ballot in elections throughout 2019 and 2020.  In fact, the majority of voters are now choosing to make use of an absentee ballot rather than wait in line at the polls.  Recognizing that voters have the freedom to vote by absentee ballot and the majority are choosing to do so, more and more communities across the state are offering prepaid postage on absentee ballots to their voters for convenience.  SB 287 would bar local election officials, who are entrusted with the task of serving their communities, from providing pre-paid postage on return envelopes despite their communities’ demand for this service. No state in the country bars election officials from providing pre-paid postage; not even Georgia.   Rather than supporting local elections officials and voters, this bill is simply aimed at restricting voter access and erecting a new and an unnecessary barrier to absentee voting.

The Michigan legislature should require pre-paid postage be provided on all absentee ballots and provide funding to municipalities to do so.  Doing so would provide a single efficient process that would be consistent irrespective of how long the ballot may be in a given election and how much postage is needed.  This would eliminate the confusion and anxiety that many voters experience about the amount of postage needed on their ballot to ensure their vote is counted.   Additionally, this process would avoid delays in returning ballots and ensure all voters across the state can fully exercise their freedom to vote by absentee ballot, including rural voters who may live far from a post-office, young voters who don’t regularly use stamps, and voters who face other accessibility challenges such as seniors, voters with disabilities or voters without transportation.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of the late 2020 seventeen states required pre-paid postage be provided.   This included:  Arizona, California, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.


Senate Bill 302 Will Confuse and Intimidate Those Seeking to Register to Vote by Using Legal Terminology Unfamiliar to the Public

SB 302 adds a requirement that voters affirm when they register to vote that the voter does not “claim a voting residence or the right to vote” in another state or territory.     Most people seeking to register to vote do not know what the technical term “voting residence” means.  This bill will do nothing to improve our elections, but it will intimidate and confuse voters, thereby discouraging some to register to vote at all.  This bill also fails to acknowledge that some voters do have more than one voting residence, although of course they can only vote in one state.  For example, young people from out of state attending school in Michigan have a voting residence in Michigan and their home state and they have the freedom to choose which state in which to vote. This bill is confusing and intimidating and ignores that Michigan law already asks those registering to vote to (1) list any previous registration and (2) authorize cancellation of any previous registration.  See MCL. 168.495.


Senate Bill 305 Needlessly Bars Election Officials from Providing Communications to Voters regarding Upcoming Elections

At a time when election misinformation is rampant, SB 305 would bar election officials from providing trusted communications about upcoming elections to the voters of Michigan.   As Election Day approaches, many voters receive a lot of communication from various reliable and unreliable sources.  Limiting the ability of election officials to put their name and/or likeness on these communications raises significant concerns about third parties who intentionally look to confuse and misinform voters.  Voters should be allowed to receive communications from their elected officials, including clerks, about things within their elected official’s responsibility and purview. Moreover, election officials have a responsibility to communicate about elections and those communications need to come from a trusted source.