Written testimony in opposition to HB 4134, HB 4492, and SB 280 on September 1, 2021
Senate Elections Committee
September 1, 2021
Promote the Vote (“PTV”) submits the below written testimony in opposition to HB 4134, HB 4492, and SB 280.
PTV Opposes HB 4134 Because It Will Impede Registered Voters’ Ability to Make Their Voices Heard in Future Elections.
PTV supports requiring local clerks to maintain a permanent absent voter application list (“List”). However, PTV opposes HB 4134 because it permits registered voters to be purged from that list without sufficient basis. Promote the Vote also opposes HB 4134 because it (1) unnecessarily restricts the ways that voters may sign up for the List; (2) eliminates the current practice of local clerks mailing an absentee application to those on the List before each and every election; and (3) will increase the allowable precinct size based on an assumption that voters will continue to vote by absentee ballot at the same rates, despite a multitude of current efforts to make it harder for voters to do so.
In Michigan, registered voters may be placed on the inactive list for only two reasons: “to confirm the elector’s residence information or if an elector does not vote for 6 consecutive years.” MCL §168.509r(6). In both cases, voters remain registered and able to vote. MCL §168.509r(7). Nevertheless, HB 4134 would permit them to be purged from the List. By permitting clerks to remove inactive voters from the List, HB 4134 will disrupt, confuse, and impede registered voters in Michigan from exercising their constitutional right to vote by absentee ballot.
Furthermore, HB 4134 severely restricts the methods that voters can use to sign up for the List. For example, the bill does not allow voters to sign up for the List in person or by phone, both ways that are currently in use and accessible to voters who may not have access to email or a fax machine. HB 4134 also does not provide for voters to sign up for the list through an online portal, by mailing a form via common carrier such as UPS or FedEx, or on the voter registration form, as many voters do now.
In addition, HB 4134 requires clerks to send to voters on the List “an application for an absent voter ballot for each election cycle,” but it does not require that an application be sent for each election within that cycle, as is currently required. Election Officials Manual, Michigan BOE, Chapter 6 at 4. HB 4134 would allow clerks to send an application to a voter for a May election, but not for the August or November elections. This would negatively affect large numbers of voters, who do not regularly vote in smaller, local elections. This change would seriously undermine the effectiveness of the List, the purpose of which is to notify voters each time an election is approaching. More than 2.5 million voters had signed up for this list by the end of 2020, with a promise that they would be mailed an application before every election.
Finally, PTV opposes HB 4134 because it increases the permissible precinct size and removes voters on the inactive list from the precinct size calculation. These changes, taken together with the numerous efforts to make it harder to vote by absentee ballot, create a dangerous opportunity to increase precinct size in ways that may reduce efficiency and service for voters. Communities with high levels of housing instability may have more voters on the inactive list due to their population’s temporary residency changes, although these temporary residency changes may not ultimately affect voter registration. Nevertheless, because HB 4134 removes voters on the inactive list from the precinct size calculation, the temporary residency changes could lead these communities to increase their precinct size beyond what may be appropriate to effectively serve the needs of voters, leading to long lines and other Election Day issues.
Moreover, Michigan’s significant 2020 increase in absentee voting may lead some to believe that precinct sizes can increase without jeopardizing service and efficiency at polling locations. However, numerous efforts are underway to undermine and restrict the ability of Michigan voters to vote by absentee ballot. These efforts make HB 4134’s changes to precinct size premature. Currently, this body has numerous bills before it that would make it harder – if not impossible – to vote by absentee ballot. And on Monday, a petition drive was announced that will circumvent both the Governor and the voters of this state and put barriers between registered voters and their constitutional right to vote an absentee ballot. Precinct consolidation should not occur at this time when the future of absentee voting in Michigan is under attack.
PTV Supports Expanding the Available Buildings that Can Be Used for Polling Locations but Is Concerned that HB 4492’s List Is Too Restrictive.
PTV supports expanding the available buildings that can be used for polling locations. We oppose HB 4492, however, because its list of options for privately-owned polling locations, should a municipality be unable to find a suitable building that meets the current statutory requirements, is too restrictive. HB 4492 includes on its list of acceptable privately-owned polling locations certain “privately owned clubhouse[s] or conference center[s],” including a “golf course clubhouse,” but not stadiums, arenas, or other suitable non-public locations.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, numerous other states allow non-public buildings to be used when public buildings are unavailable.1 By providing such a narrow and restrictive list, HB 4492 will continue to unnecessarily hinder the ability of municipalities to secure appropriate polling locations, including those that are fully accessible to all voters.
PTV Opposes SB 280 Because It Imposes a New Deadline by Which the State Board of Canvassers Must Certify Signatures Without Providing Additional Funding to Meet the Deadline.
Certification of signatures is a laborious, time-consuming, and detail-oriented task. Each petition submitted requires a methodical inspection of thousands of petition sheets and the signatures contained within. PTV opposes SB 280 because it would impose a new deadline on the State Board of Canvassers, which is staffed by the Bureau of Elections, without providing any additional funding or support to the Bureau to expedite the process. Moreover, SB 280 imposes this new deadline even though there is no limit to the number of petitions that can be submitted for certification at the same or close in time, and it provides no exceptions for volume of petitions submitted or for the time of year that petitions are submitted.
As a result, this deadline could ultimately force the Bureau of Elections to sacrifice critical staff time dedicated to other crucial tasks, like preparing for high-turnout general elections and supporting our more than 1,500 local clerks in administering those elections. Imposing a specific deadline without acknowledging the challenge of meeting such a deadline by allocating additional funds or by recognizing the need for exceptions is unreasonable and could threaten the State Board of Canvassers’ ability to accurately perform its certification function.
1 National Conference of State Legislatures, “Polling Places” (https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/polling-places.aspx).