Michigan GOP Goes After Voter-Passed Measures Expanding Access To Ballot

Dale G. Young/Detroit News

On November 6, Michiganders overwhelmingly voted to expand access to the ballot in their state and put an end to partisan gerrymandering of districts. But that’s not stopping Republicans in the legislature from targeting those citizen-approved measures before Democrats take control of key statewide offices on January 1.

As the Detroit Free Press reported, GOP lawmakers are proposing over a dozen measures in the lame duck session to lock in their policy priorities and undermine provisions approved by Michigan voters just weeks ago.

A set of bills sponsored by state Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall would fundamentally alter the Promote the Vote ballot proposal allowing same-day voter registration up to and including Election Day. Instead, that deadline would be pushed back to up to 14 days before the election. A provision in that ballot measure allowing for automatic voting registration (AVR) would also be altered to allow people to opt-out.

Michigan voters passed the original Promote the Vote proposal by 67 to 33 percent.

Sharon Dolente, voting rights strategist at the ACLU’s Michigan chapter, told TPM that the measure was riddled with errors that could potentially create “conflicting statutes inside of [the state’s] own election code.”

“The rushed nature of all this means that you have bills that are not well drafted; they have errors in them,” Dolente said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of sections of the election code, and if you’re forgetting to deal with some of those things that need to be changed then you’re kind of creating a bigger mess.”

Another high-profile citizen-led ballot measure, which weathered legal challenges and heavy pushback from Republicans in the legislature, would overhaul the state’s redistricting process. The Voters Not Politicians proposal, which passed by 61 to 39 percent, would give a 13-person redistricting commission the power to draw congressional and state legislative districts, taking that responsibility away from the state legislature.

A new proposal by state Sen. Phil Pavlov would impose a $500 fine on individuals who mischaracterize their political affiliation while seeking to become a member of the commission. Pavlov’s proposal also includes vague language governing the secretary of state’s role in relation to the new commission.

Kowall and Pavlov did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

Katie Fahey, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, has expressed opposition to “any attempt by this legislature to undermine Michigan voters.”

“Given past activities by the legislature this week, we expect this bill may only be a shell and that lawmakers will use [sic] to alter the fair, impartial and independent nature of the Commission.”

Other measures up for consideration—a number of which were approved via ballot measure—include watering down legislation related to recreational marijuana legalization, paid sick leave, and raising the minimum wage.

The legislature is trying to move these bills forward before incoming Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson take office in January.

Wisconsin’s GOP-controlled legislature is taking similarly drastic steps in the lame duck session, targeting early voting and trying to limit the authority of incoming Democratic leaders.

This post has been updated.

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