MI Senate Majority Leader Lays Out Plan To Circumvent Dem Guv’s Veto On Election Bills

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July 8, 2021 4:48 p.m.

The top Republican in the Michigan Senate recently previewed the GOP strategy to enact new voting restrictions in the state by circumventing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s (D) veto pen.

There’s long been murmurs in Michigan that Republicans would pursue an “initiative petition” to enact voting restrictions, which in Michigan would turn a proposal into law via the collection of around 340,000 signatures — the legal threshold of just 8% of the total vote cast in the last gubernatorial election — and the GOP-controlled legislature’s approval.

Now, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) has acknowledged the strategy directly.

In an interview with JTV’s Bart Hawley that aired July 1, Shirkey acknowledged that Whitmer would be unwilling to sign a series of voter ID bills passed in the Senate last month, and noted Republicans likely wouldn’t have the votes necessary to override her veto.

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“Keep your eyes and ears open for the potential for a citizen initiative driven by the state party on some of these more important election laws that need to be considered,” Shirkey said.

The majority leader didn’t specify which proposals he’d like to see as part of the initiative — and neither he nor a state party spokesperson responded to TPM’s request for comment Thursday — but Shirkey told Hawley there were “half a dozen bills” that he and his colleagues thought were important, but which Whitmer wasn’t likely to sign.

“So that’s what will likely happen, is it’ll be packaged into a citizen initiative, and the citizens of Michigan will take it on,” he said.

The Senate last month passed three such restrictions, part of a 39-bill package that Republicans put out earlier this year.

SB 285 would require voters requesting absentee ballots to provide ID to their local clerk — either a driver’s license or state ID number, the last four digits of a Social Security number, or a photocopy of an ID card. SB 303 would require voters without an ID on Election Day to cast a provisional ballot, rather than just affirming their identity in an affidavit. And SB 304 would change the procedures for provisional ballots, putting the onus on voters, not clerks, to verify their registration record or otherwise establish their identity and residence within six days of an election in which they cast a provisional ballot.

A version of SB 303 passed by the House a few days later in June required provisional ballots for voters whose signatures on Election Day — according to the judgement of local workers — don’t match their signatures in government records.

A spokesperson for Shirkey told The Detroit News, when the amended bill passed the House, that Senate Republicans would be “taking a look and likely making some changes.” In his interview with JTV a few days later, Shirkey said “I am not sure that the signature part will ultimately get to the governor.”

“It’s kind of a balance, just like everything else is,” he added. “Do what’s possible, do what is most practical, do what makes sense.”

“The ID part I think is rock solid,” Shirkey said.

Whitmer, unsurprisingly, is expected to veto all three if they reach her desk.

Outside of Whitmer’s veto threat, Democratic legislators have slammed the restriction bills as a political response to Trump’s loss in Michigan. Many point to the recent report from the GOP-led Senate Oversight Committee, which dismissed lies about widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

“They have no evidence that points to a need to overhaul our voting process but are proceeding with their plan anyway,” State Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D) told TPM. “The hard truth is that they lost the election and want to prevent that from happening again by changing the rules and dismantling our core voting rights.”

State Rep. Matt Koleszar (D), vice chair of the Michigan House’s Elections and Ethics Committee, pointed out that Michigan already has a voter ID requirement. The Republican effort, he said, reeked of politics.

“To me, that has nothing to do with integrity, and has everything to do with creating barriers to voting,” he said.

Koleszar noted around 12,000 people without IDs voted with a signed affidavit affirming their identity in Michigan in 2020, down from around 18,000 in 2016.

“You’re talking 12-18,000 people where you just made it harder for them to vote,” he said. “And when they use the words ‘election integrity,’ my argument is, when you disenfranchise 12-18,000 people, you just hurt the integrity of the election.”

After months of speculation about a potential initiative petition to circumvent Whitmer — but little action — legislators and activists told TPM last month that Republicans seemed to be somewhat behind schedule.

But, Koleszar told TPM Thursday, in Michigan’s capital “everybody is pretty well-aware that this is something that is being talked about.”

“The potential for a citizens initiative led by the Michigan Republican Party is one of the worst-kept secrets in Lansing, especially,” he said. “Everybody’s well aware that this is a possibility. I think the dialogue is out there, even if we don’t necessarily know what the timeline is yet.”

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