By Kyle Davidson, Michigan Advance
Activists, educators and nonprofit organizers on Wednesday discussed efforts to undermine the results of the 2020 elections, restrictions on voting rights and methods for promoting civic engagement.
The panel was held as part of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights’ 2022 Civil Rights Summit at the Lansing Center. The discussion opened with Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who spoke about the success of Michigan’s expanded voting rights policies.
Michigan previously expanded voting rights in 2018 when more than two-thirds of Michigan voters passed Proposal 3, a constitutional amendment which allows for automatic and same-day voter registration, no-reason absentee voting and straight ticket voting among other changes.
These changes lead to more people voting in the August primary and November general elections in 2020 than ever before in Michigan’s history, Benson said.
However, this success has been undermined by national efforts to cast doubt on the integrity of the 2020 election that former President Donald Trump lost, Benson said.
“Make no mistake, we’re also convinced of a multi-faceted, multi-year attack on the ability of all our citizens, wherever they live or who they vote for, to be able to choose who governs them and hold them accountable,” Benson said.
In order to preserve the success of future elections, Benson stressed the importance of collaboration to fight misinformation undermining democracy, protecting election workers and poll workers and pushing back on efforts to eliminate access to voting.
Following the 2020 election, Michigan Senate Republicans introduced a 39-bill package, Senate Bills 273-311, in 2021. Many of these bills have since been vetoed by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
There also is the GOP-backed Secure MI Vote ballot initiative, which would require ID for in-person and absentee ballot applications, prohibit unsolicited absentee ballot applications, require partial Social Security numbers for voter registration and require voters who did not present their ID in person to present it within six days after the election for their vote to be counted, among other restrictions.
If the initiative submits enough valid signatures, the GOP-led Legislature can adopt it before it goes to voters. The governor does not have the power to veto.
There also are currently petitions to amend the state Constitution to expand voting rights:
- The MI Right to Vote initiative would require two weekends of in-person, absentee voting, require at least one absentee ballot drop-off box for every 15,000 registered voters, require postage of absentee ballots to be fully paid and require the Legislature to fund elections. The effort would also prohibit requiring voter ID for absentee voting and Social Security numbers for voter registration, and would prohibit legislators from imposing an “undue burden on the right to vote,” including laws that restrict contributions to fund elections, record voters or discriminate against election challengers.
- Another amendment proposed by the group would also strip the Legislature of its ability to adopt policies introduced through ballot initiatives. Currently the Legislature has 40 days to adopt or reject citizen-led ballot proposals after the effort is submitted. When adopted, these statutes are not subject to the governor’s veto power.
- Promote the Vote 2022, which is backed by groups including the ACLU of Michigan and Voters Not Politicians, would also require ballot drop-off boxes for every 15,000 voters. It would also amend the state Constitution to allow for nine days of early voting, allow voters to sign an affidavit attesting to their identity rather than presenting a voter ID, require that post-election audits only be conducted by the state and local officials, and allow voters to register for absentee ballots for all future elections.
Yvonne White, president of the Michigan state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) spoke out against false conspiracies of election fraud in Michigan.
“Michigan really doesn’t really have a huge problem with registration, it’s getting individuals out to vote. But to set forward the notion that there was fraud committed in our last election is an insult on us as a people,” White said. “Individuals lied in order to fool voters and stop them from exercising their right to make a difference in the community.”
White also argued the importance of voting and the need for accessibility in voting.
Angelique Power, president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation, an organization dedicated to investing in Detroit’s youth, said it’s important to support local media organizations who are dedicated to educating communities about policies and their community impact.
“Journalism serves as an accountability framework for politicians, for government and for institutions. They underpin democracy,” Power said.
Shanay Watson-Whittaker, director of strategic partnerships at Michigan Voices, an organization that helps to build civic engagement with BIPOC-led progressive nonprofits, said elections have become transactional rather than transformative communities.
Younger voters especially are more concerned about issues, so by engaging with citizens on the issues that impact them, they are more likely to participate, Watson-Whittaker said.
In addition to discussing the importance of educating and engaging young people in politics, the panelists also discussed breaking down stigmas around voting, like discussing politics at work.
“Voting is not political. It’s the game; it’s not the team. The idea of politicizing the act of voting is a tactic to suppress votes,” Power said.
“Corporations pour money into lobbyists and into politics. So if they, at the same time, released a 2020 racial equity statement and are now saying they can’t talk about the right to vote or giving employees time off, then they’re talking out of both sides of their mouths,” Power said.
Protesters from the Defend Black Voters coalition on Monday gathered at Detroit’s riverfront to protest GM and Blue Cross Blue Shield for contributing to GOP politicians who support the Secure MI Vote initiative.
The panelists also discussed other changes including more accessible language on how to vote, removing voter registration requirements, and translating direct action to action at the polls.
“Voting should be accessible wherever you want to do it, and it should not be on just one day,” White said. “We must change policy and only your vote can do that.”