Michigan’s governor is poised to sign a set of three voter suppression bills approved by the House and the Senate–in a state that already has a voter ID law. A group of civil rights organizations testified against the bills last month, citing that the legislation would cause confusion for election supervisors and poll place workers, and that one bill in particular is "especially problematic for organizations operating registration drives." Like Florida, Michigan is a good indicator of what other states may have in store: creating barriers against the participation of marginalized voters in major elections, before they even enter the polling site.
Less than two months shy of the state’s primary state election, SB 754 targets registration drives in two ways. First, the legislation stipulates photo ID for registration at government agencies. When authoring the so-called Motor Voter Act of 1993, which increases the government venues at which people can register to vote, Congress considered and rejected language to increase the requirements (such as photo ID) to register at government agencies. Federal circuit court decisions in 2005 and 2012 cemented Congress’s intent–but Michigan is still moving forward with the photo ID requirement.
But the bill also creates obstacles for civic participation, which will need to submit the personal information of each and every single volunteer, along with an affidavit that must be kept in file for a minimum of two years. Registering agents will have to be trained by the Secretary of State and are liable for stiff penalties if any of the bill’s numerous new procedures aren’t kept. Unfortunately for them, the bill doesn’t explain the training agents are expected to undergo, and doesn’t spell out the penalties. Once the bill is signed into law, voter registration groups will be too busy scrambling to figure out the bureaucracy and pleading with get volunteers to sign affidavits, rather than carry out their actual mission to register voters.
All of this reminds us of Florida, where voter registration groups saw a sharp dip in new registered voters after similar legislation passed there. Although a ruling blocked parts of the law, Michigan is poised to copycat the Sunshine State’s confusing law, which only results in registering less voters who are already marginalized from the electoral process. And that’s jut one of three bills in Michigan.
SB 751 is essentially a new purge effort, aimed to remove voters from the rolls is the state "believes" that person has moved to another state. If a voter has not voted in the past six years and then casts a ballot, their vote will automatically be challenged. Additionally, if a voter receives a postcard regarding their state residency but doesn’t respond within thirty days, and subsequently doesn’t vote in two elections, s/he will be removed from the rolls. Students, who move to attend college and find work but sometimes return home after several years are obviously at risk under this legislation, as are those who serve in the military. Elderly voters, who sometimes move in with loved ones or to assisted living facilities within the state are also vulnerable to the bill. Federal legislation already dictates how non-residents identified and removed–this new bill creates another way to keep voters (and young voters in particular) away from the polls rather than engage them in the process.
The last bill in Michigan’s trifecta is simply unnecessary. Anyone who’s filled out a voter registration form already has to check a box indicating citizenship in the United States. SB 803 adds an additional box at the polling location. If the voter doesn’t automatically acknowledge their citizenship, their eligibility could be challenged, opening the door for additional questions, confusion and longer lines on Election Day. Non-English speakers are especially vulnerable to this new tactic, as there is no indication that the citizenship box will be made available in any other language.
We shouldn’t be surprised if an avalanche of lawsuits challenges Michigan’s three bills. Florida will also see the most expansive lawsuit to stop its purge today. But the suits don’t stop there: the two Democrats on Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County election board will also sue over the state’s voter ID law. All of this in an attempt to ensure that the nation’s marginalized voters can still exercise their right to register and cast their votes on Election Day.