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Michigan Republicans propose slew of election changes

March 24, 2021 GMT

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Republicans on Wednesday proposed a slew of election bills that would require voters to submit a photo ID, prohibit the unsolicited mass mailing of absentee ballot applications, and restrict the hours in which people could drop their ballot in curbside boxes.

Outraged Democrats said the legislation is racist and would suppress voting, months after some GOP lawmakers falsely claimed the presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump despite his 154,000-vote, or 2.8-percentage point, loss to Joe Biden in the battleground state. Several measures appear destined to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer if they reach her desk, while others may find bipartisan support.

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Republican senators, citing a surge in absentee voting in 2020, said changes are needed to ensure election integrity. The 39-bill package would let 16- and 17-year-olds preregister to vote, create an “early voting” day 10 days before Election Day, require training of partisan election challengers, and mandate video monitoring of all ballot drop boxes.

The proposed ID requirement and other provisions are sure to be fiercely opposed. Michigan now lets people without ID sign an affidavit and vote. Under the legislation, they would instead be given a provisional ballot and have to verify their identity with the local clerk within six days. Voters applying for an absentee ballot — an increasingly popular option under a 2018 constitutional amendment and during the coronavirus pandemic — also would have to attach a copy of their ID.

Drop boxes would have to be locked at 5 p.m. the day before an election, 27 hours earlier than normal. After that, absentee voters would have to turn in their ballots directly to the clerk’s office.

“Gov. Whitmer believes our state has a duty to protect the freedom to vote in Michigan, and any piece of legislation that seeks to take away a person’s right to vote or creates barriers to voting is a non-starter,” spokesman Bobby Leddy said, referencing voters’ approval of the ballot initiative that expanded voting rights.

More than 5.5 million people voted in Michigan’s presidential election — the most ever and the highest percentage of voting-age residents to cast a ballot in 60 years.

Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson last year mass mailed millions of unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters who were not already on permanent lists, saying it was a way to encourage safe voting during the pandemic. Republicans challenged the move, but it was upheld in court.

One bill would bar Benson and future secretaries of state from taking similar action again. Another would ban governments from providing prepaid postage on ballot envelopes— which some communities such as the state’s second-largest county, Oakland, did in the fall. The legislation also would allow larger municipalities to start processing absentee ballots the day before an election.

“For our democratic system to work, we must ensure the people of Michigan have the ability and opportunity to exercise their right to vote and have confidence in the fairness and accuracy of elections,” said a key sponsor, Republican Sen. Ruth Johnson of Holly, a former secretary of state.

Benson, clerks and voting-rights groups criticized the legislation. Democratic Sen. Erika Geiss of Taylor called it “an unconscionable resurrection of Jim Crow designed to keep Black and brown Americans from fully participating in the democratic process.” She noted that a broad coalition of top government and industry officials had declared the 2020 election the most secure in American history.

“Introducing bills that violate the right of people to vote and restricting their access to the ballot box is electoral violence and we must prevent this electoral terrorism at all costs,” Geiss said.

Other measures would require more frequent checks to flag dead people on voter rolls and a review of proposed ballot proposal signatures within 100 days. Governments could not accept private donations for election-related activities or equipment. Election boards would have 21 days to canvass the results instead of 14, and those in larger counties would have more members.

Election inspectors, poll watchers and election challengers would be allowed to record the counting of votes.

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Follow David Eggert at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00