AARP AARP States Michigan Voters

AARP Michigan on Election Reform Bills Moving Through the Senate

Voters voting in polling place
New Getty Images

AARP believes the right to vote is a fundamental human right. Free and fair elections are essential to democracy.

Any election reform legislation should protect and enhance access to voting and ensure safety for voters 50 and older and others who participate in the process.

AARP MI Election Reform Position at a Glance

Some parts of a package of election bills passed by the Michigan Senate on June 16 do not adhere to these principles because they potentially diminish access to voting and call for ID requirements that could discourage or prevent citizens from voting.

Here is a Detroit Free Press account of the passage of the election reform legislation:

Michigan Republican lawmakers passed three bills that would overhaul the state's voter ID requirements, establishing a strict ID rule for in-person voters and a brand new one for the skyrocketing number of voters who choose to cast absentee ballots.

The passage of the bills in the Michigan Senate marked the first vote in the chamber on a controversial series of 39 GOP election bills Republican lawmakers say would restore faith in elections while election officials and voting rights advocates say they would disenfranchise voters. All three bills passed by a 19-16 party-line vote.

The outcome was expected, as was fierce opposition from Democrats.

Democratic lawmakers argued that the bills were a way for their GOP colleagues to appease voters who believe in the lies and misinformation about the outcome and administration of the 2020 election.

Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, said that rather than telling voters the truth about the integrity of Michigan's election, Republican lawmakers were "pushing the big lie that has divided the nation to the point of insurrection."

State Sen. Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit, and other lawmakers said the measures are racist and evoke restrictions of the Jim Crow era, intended to make it harder for nonwhite voters to cast their ballots.

"This bill package is not about voter integrity, it is not about preventing fraud, it is not about ensuring the security of our election, and this is not about preventing foreign interference. This is about being scared of losing an election ... so now you want to change the rules and add barriers so that people who look like me get frustrated and decide not to vote," said Santana, who is Black.

"The only thing missing from these bills are the literacy tests and the official count for the number of bubbles from a bar of soap."

State Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly, the former secretary of state who has led the effort to push through the GOP election package, called the proposed changes "commonsense election integrity measures" that would "ensure the security and fairness of our elections."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has characterized the proposed changes as solutions in search of problems and has vowed to veto many of the bills.

"The package has not come through the legislature to my desk yet. If and when that happens, I will veto the package," she told the Washington Post during an April interview.

Following the passage of the bills Wednesday, Whitmer's office said that "any piece of legislation that seeks to take away a person’s right to vote or creates barriers to voting is a nonstarter."

The bills are part of a series of GOP measures that would introduce other restrictions on voters such as limitations on using drop boxes to return absentee ballots and prohibiting clerks from providing prepaid postage on ballot return envelopes. The package also includes measures that voting rights advocates and election officials say would open the door to voter intimidation and impose new costs on election administrators while restricting their sources of funding.

One of the bills that passed Wednesday — SB 285 — would require voters requesting an absentee ballot to provide one of the following to their local clerk: a driver’s license number, state ID number, the last four digits of their Social Security number or a photocopy of their ID. Those who fail to include this information in their application would be issued a provisional ballot that wouldn't be counted unless voters took additional steps to verify their identity with their clerk.

Republican lawmakers said the bill establishes uniform ID standards for absentee and in-person voters in an effort to prevent voter fraud.

During debate on the bill, Democratic lawmakers said there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Michigan that necessitates the new ID requirement for absentee voters.

Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, pushed back against the idea that voter fraud is an insignificant problem, stating that there could have been many instances of voter fraud that weren't detected. National studies have consistently found that voter fraud is exceptionally rare.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has said the requirements would risk disenfranchising voters and wouldn't improve election security. The state's signature verification process is an effective way to confirm voters' identity, Benson said during a May 26 news conference on the bill.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, used a colorful analogy to describe how he sees the bill working.

"When I get a fishing license and I show my ID, then when I cast my reel, I don't show my ID again to the fish," Ananich said to laughs from his colleagues.

"You want to add hoop after hoop after barrier after barrier because you no longer have ideas that people like."

GOP lawmakers also passed legislation Wednesday that would eliminate the option for voters who do not have a photo ID with them on Election Day to sign an affidavit affirming their identity before casting a ballot. Under SB 303, voters who do not present an ID would instead be issued a provisional ballot.

The third bill passed Wednesday — SB 304 — changes the process for ensuring provisional ballots are counted, putting the onus on voters instead of clerks.

Voters issued a provisional ballot would receive a notice informing them that their ballot will only count if the voter verifies his or her eligibility with the local clerk within six days of the election. Voters would have to verify their registration record or present an ID along with other documents such as a utility bill or bank statement if their ID does not list their current address.

Currently, clerks can confirm the registration status of voters who cast provisional ballots without the voter needing to take additional action. Voting rights advocates have warned that the change would likely lead to a high rate of rejection of the ballots.

Under current Michigan law, voters can still cast a ballot in-person at their polling location even if they don't have an ID or left theirs at home. These voters can sign an affidavit at their polling location affirming their identity and proceed to vote normally.

In the Nov. 3 election, 2.3 million Michigan voters cast a ballot in person and 11,417 of those voters (0.5%) did so without showing an ID, according to the Michigan Department of State. A report commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan found that the bill would likely have a disproportionate impact on voters of color and those with low incomes.

Analyzing precincts where voters cast ballots without an ID, the report found that about half of those ballots were cast in precincts with a high share of Black and low-income voters.

Despite Whitmer's veto vow, Michigan GOP chairman Ron Weiser laid out a plan to circumvent the governor during a March event.

Republicans may pursue an initiative petition that would allow lawmakers to pass and enact the legislation without the support of the governor or the approval of voters through a ballot question. In 2018, Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot proposal that expanded access to absentee voting and made a series of other election changes that would be affected by some of the GOP measures.

Michigan's process for approving voter-initiated legislation stands out nationally in giving a minority of voters in the state the ability to bypass a popular vote and the governor's veto.

Any such move would likely garner substantial legal pushback.

-------

AARP notes that voters 50 and up have comprised 55 percent to 60 percent of the overall vote in Michigan in the last three elections, and they made up 64 percent of the record-setting 3.3 million voters who cast absentee ballots in the 2020 election.

In general, AARP believes election reform bills should be measured against these five principles:

•             We believe all Americans should be able to exercise their right to vote freely, easily, and safely - any change to how elections are conducted should serve to maximize voter participation.

•             Policymakers should maximize voter registration, including through automatic voter registration systems.

•             Policymakers should prohibit ID requirements that discourage or prevent citizens from voting.

•             Policymakers should encourage and promote maximum participation in the electoral process—that they should expand the range of voting options.

•             Qualified voters should not be excluded from voting because of a medical diagnosis, disability status, or their type of residence, such as whether a voter resides in a long-term care facility.

Various analyses of the legislation currently being considered in the Michigan Senate indicate it would limit voter access to absentee ballot drop boxes, create new hurdles for voters, set potentially difficult deadlines for vote counting, and ramp up voter photo ID requirements possibly disenfranchising some voters. These measures conflict with AARP election reform principles. All Americans should be able to exercise their right to vote freely, easily, and safely.

Welcome to AARP Michigan
Contact information and more from your state office. Learn what we are doing to champion social change and help you live your best life.