Written Testimonies on the voting rights bills on May 26, 2021
Promote the Vote submits this written testimony in opposition to SBs 284, 285, 289, 303, 304, 307, and 310.
SB 284 Will Prohibit Funding That Would Make Our Elections More Efficient and Secure.
Administering elections is an expensive endeavor. It requires, among other things, additional staff (sometimes numbering in the thousands) and myriad pieces of high-tech equipment. Unfortunately, the State of Michigan does not provide municipalities with the level of funding needed to ensure that our elections are accessible, efficient, and secure. In 2020, in the absence of adequate funding, charitable funds were made available by application to every Michigan city and township to ensure safe and accessible elections. Such funding was ultimately provided to more than 450 Michigan communities, including townships and rural communities, in more than 80% of Michigan counties. Promote the Vote opposes SB 284 because it blocks a critical source of funding utilized by communities across the state, while doing nothing to ensure adequate funding for future elections.
SB 310 Will Make it Vastly More Difficult to Apply for an Absentee Ballot, In Direct Defiance of the Will of Michigan’s Voters.
Proposal 3 of 2018, passed by more than two thirds of Michigan voters, gives every eligible voter the option to vote by absentee ballot before Election Day. Previously, Michigan voters could only vote by absentee ballot if they met a narrow set of criteria. With the passage of Proposal 3, a vast majority of Michigan voters proclaimed their desire to make absentee voting more – rather than less – accessible. SB 310 would make absentee voting significantly less accessible, in direct defiance of the will of Michigan voters. For this and other reasons, Promote the Vote opposes the bill.
Currently, registered Michigan voters can obtain an absentee ballot application in several ways: from their city or township clerk, online from the Department of State’s website, or by mail from numerous sources. Notably, it is often quite difficult for voters to obtain such an application directly from their local clerk. Many clerks, especially in rural areas, have very limited office hours and a limited ability to answer phone calls and respond to messages. Therefore, many voters turn to the Department of State website for an application. In addition, for the November 2020 election, many voters used the applications mailed to them by the Secretary of State – an entity they knew they could trust.
SB 310 will prohibit the Department of State from doing what any person, organization, or political party can do: mail an absentee ballot application to registered voters in Michigan. The bill will also prohibit the posting of an application or a direct link to an application on the only election official website for all Michiganders, the Michigan Department of State’s website. SB 310 will thus make it significantly more difficult for registered voters to obtain an application for an absentee ballot. Moreover, the bill will disproportionally affect those voters with limited mobility or with substantial work or caregiving responsibilities, for whom traveling to or contacting their local clerk within a limited set of hours would be especially difficult.
Making it more difficult for registered voters to obtain an absentee ballot application will not make the absentee voting process more secure. That process is already secure thanks to a robust signature verification process. If the signature on the application does not match the signature on file, the applicant does not receive a ballot.
More than two-thirds of Michigan voters expressed their desire to make absentee voting more accessible. SB 310 will do the opposite.
SB 285 Will Deprive Millions of Registered Voters of Their Constitutional Right to Vote by Absentee Ballot.
Promote the Vote opposes SB 285 because it deprives registered voters of their constitutional right to vote by absentee ballot through the mail, and it requires voters to put their personal identifying information at risk of exposure.
Proposal 3 of 2018, passed by more than two-thirds of Michigan voters, gives every registered voter the right to vote by absentee ballot – either in person or by mail – before Election Day. SB 285 will abrogate this constitutional right for millions of registered voters in Michigan. If SB 285 becomes law, only those voters who have access to a voter identification and a printer or copier, paper, and ink will be able to satisfy this requirement. SB 285 will require that registered voters put copies of their personal identifying information (such as their driver’s license, college identification, or passport) in the mail.
SB 285 imposes a severe burden on voters exercising their constitutional right to vote by absentee ballot, and it will disenfranchise many who depend on voting through the mail. SB 285 requires registered voters who exercise their constitutional right to vote by mail to include a copy of their voter identification with their application. The bill will thus limit absentee voting to registered voters with the economic means to own a printer that is in working order and to supply the ink and paper necessary to make a copy of their identification. Voters without a printer will be required to travel to a print shop, wait in line to use a copy machine, and pay to photocopy their identification. Doing so would be difficult, if not impossible, for many individuals, including those with significant caregiving or work responsibilities, low income voters, residents of long-term care facilities, rural voters living far from a print shop, and voters in pre-trial detention.
Michigan law already requires local election officials to verify a voter’s identity twice by verifying both the signature on the application and the signature on the absentee ballot against the signature on file in Michigan’s voter registration database. SB 285 violates the constitutional right to an absentee ballot guaranteed to every registered voter in Michigan, as adopted through Proposal 3 of 2018.
SBs 303 and 304 Will Disenfranchise Tens of Thousands of Registered Voters in Michigan; They Will Not Make the State’s Elections More Secure.
Promote the Vote opposes SBs 303 and 304 because they will eliminate options for registered voters to prove their identity, disenfranchise tens of thousands of registered voters in Michigan, and disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color.
Michigan already has a voter identification law, which was originally enacted in 1996. Pursuant to MCL 168.523, when a registered voter appears at their polling location to vote, they can prove their identity by either (1) providing one of the specified documents, such as a driver’s license, student ID, or passport, or (2) signing an affidavit of identify, swearing to their identify under penalty of perjury. SB 303 would radically change and restrict the options available to registered voters, by eliminating the affidavit as an option. In doing so, SB 303 would eliminate options registered voters in Michigan have relied upon for twenty-five years. SB 303 would disenfranchise voters across the state of Michigan, while doing nothing to make our elections more secure.
By eliminating the affidavit option for registered voters in Michigan, SB 303 would eliminate a key provision that the Michigan Supreme Court relied upon when it found the law to be constitutional. In a 2007 opinion, the Michigan Supreme Court found that Michigan’s voter identification law did not impose a severe burden on voters because of the availability of the affidavit. In re Request for Advisory Opinion Regarding Constitutionality of 2005 PA 71, 479 Mich. 1 (2007). Without the option for voters to sign an affidavit, Michigan’s voter identification law will impose a severe and unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.
In last year’s presidential election, tens of thousands of voters, distributed across the state and in nearly every county in Michigan, utilized the option to sign the affidavit. Indeed, in November 2020, more than 11,400 eligible voters in 82 out of 83 Michigan counties signed the affidavit. See Oosting, Jonathan, “GOP Targets No-ID Ballots to Cut Fraud; Only 0.2% Voted that Way in Michigan,” Bridge Michigan, 5/19/2021 (https://www.bridgemi.com/michigan-government/goptargets-no-id-ballots-cut-fraud -only-02-voted-way-michigan?amp). In November 2016, more than 18,500 eligible voters used the affidavit option, again in 82 of 83 Michigan counties. See Michigan Secretary of State, “Affidavit of Not in Possession of Picture ID Report for the November 2016 Election,”
(https://www.michigan.gov/documents/sos/nov_2016_final_no_ID_608840_7.pdf). While these voters may constitute a small percentage of the electorate, each and every one of them has a constitutionally protected right to vote and to use the affidavit option available under current law. Notably, while voters use the affidavit option for a variety of reasons, most election officials will tell you that the affidavit is most often used because a voter forgot or lost their identification.
Promote the Vote further opposes SB 303 because the elimination of the affidavit option will disproportionately affect voters of color, who are five times more likely to lack access to ID on Election Day. See, Henninger, P., Meredith, M., & Morse, M., “Who Votes Without
Identification? Using Affidavits from Michigan to Learn About the Potential Impact of Strict
Voter Identification Laws,” Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 18(2) (forthcoming) (https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/morse/files/mich_voter_id.pdf). Such a disparate impact is unacceptable to the voters of Michigan, who made it clear in passing Proposition 3 of 2018 that they wanted a voting system that works for everyone. Such an impact would also undoubtedly subject SB 303 to valid legal challenges, citing violations of equal protection.
That SB 303 provides for voters without identification to receive a provisional ballot does not solve its myriad problems. For a provisional ballot to be counted, an eligible voter must travel to their city or township clerk’s office within six days of the election to provide their identification.
Local clerk’s offices often have limited hours, and it can be very difficult for many individuals, including those with significant caregiving or work responsibilities or limited mobility, to find the time to go to their clerk’s office within such a limited set of hours. For those communities whose clerk’s offices are only open during normal business hours, such hours don’t accommodate voters who also work normal business hours. SBs 303 and 304 may require all local clerks to be open for extended evening and weekend hours immediately following each election to enable voters to appear and provide identification.
SB 304 also requires these voters to provide the identification for election purposes that SB 303 now requires and a second form of identification – proof of residency. Under SBs 303 and 304, voters who forgot, lost, or lacked their identification on Election Day must take time from their busy schedules, and possibly time off from work, arrange transportation and travel to the clerk’s office, and provide two forms of identification, when only one form of identification was required of every other voter on Election Day. Under current law, only voters registering to vote within 14 days of an election are required to provide proof of residency.
Finally, SB 304’s provision for certain individuals to be eligible to have the fee for obtaining an official state ID waived is, in practice, useless. Pursuant to SB 304, an individual has six days after the election to present their identification and proof of residency to their local clerk. Even if a registered voter did not previously have identification because obtaining one was prohibitively expensive, and even if the voter learns on Election Day that the state would waive the fee, the chance that the voter could obtain identification in time to ensure that their ballot is counted is quite slim.
Because SBs 303 and 304 will disenfranchise tens of thousands of registered voters without making our elections more secure, and because they will disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color, Promote the Vote opposes the bills.
SB 307 Is Unnecessary, Wasteful, and Costly.
Promote the Vote opposes SB 307 because it imposes an unnecessary, wasteful, and costly provision on local election administrators for no clear reason. Michigan law already requires the full text of proposals to be voted on to be posted in each precinct. MCL 168.480. SB 307 will require local communities to provide the full text of each proposal to every voter, whether they are voting in person or by mail. Notably, the bill imposes additional costs on local communities, both to provide the text to each voter and to mail the additional pages, but it does not provide any additional funding. The Legislature seeks to impose this unfunded mandate while simultaneously both blocking access to charitable funds for election administration and risking the availability of federal funds for election administration.
SB 289 Serves Only to Jeopardize Millions of Dollars of Election Funding.
Promote the Vote opposes SB 289 because it would jeopardize significant sources of funding for election administration at a time when voting and elections are woefully under-funded. For example, under the administration of former Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, the State of Michigan utilized $30 million in “leftover” federal funds from the 2002 Help America Vote Act to support the purchase of new voting tabulators in every Michigan community prior to the 2018 election. See, Oosting, Jonathan, “Michigan Plans to Replace all Voting Machines by 2018,”
The Detroit News, 01/24/2017(https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/politics/2017/01/24/voting-machines/96991230/). The Michigan legislature should not impose arbitrary deadlines or requirements, thereby risking one of the most significant sources of funding for voting and elections.