Michigan GOP’s Voter Restrictions Could Eliminate 20 Percent of Polling Sites

A controversial scheme Michigan Republicans to bypass Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s veto of their proposed voting restrictions A new study suggests that one out of five polling locations in the state could be eliminated.

The head of Michigan’s Republican Party is funding the “Secure MI Vote” petition, which includes a ban on in-kind contributions to local election clerks. Organizers have acknowledgedThis provision would effectively end the use of donated polling places, such as churches, according to a new report from the liberal advocacy group. Some cities and townships could lose half their polling sites — or in some cases all of them — under the new restrictions, according to a new report from the liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan.

“I hope people are able to see the danger and the impact of this proposal,” Mary Clark, president of the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks and Delta Township clerk, said in a statement. “This is the type of policy that causes me to lay awake at night because it will cause so much confusion amongst voters and put clerks in impossible situations. This would absolutely negatively impact legally registered voters in my jurisdiction and every jurisdiction in this state.”

Michigan Republicans introduced a 39-bill package to change the state’s voting laws in the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat, in September launched an effort to pull an end-around on Whitmer’s veto of their proposed voting laws by introducing a ballot petition — one that voters will never get to see. An unusual quirk in the state’s constitution allows the Republican-dominated state legislature to adopt the initiative rather than put it on the ballot if they collect just 340,047 signatures, or 8% of the number of voters who participated in the last gubernatorial election. If an initiative is passed by a legislature, Whitmer cannot veto it.

The initiative would result in the “most restrictive voter ID law in the entire country,”Voting rights groups claim that the state already has a voter identification law in place. It would also ban election officials from “sending or providing access to” an absentee ballot application unless it is requested and ban election clerks from accepting donated spaces or private donations to help administer the elections.

Local election clerks raised concerns about the proposed initiative, arguing the stricter voter identification requirement amounts to a violation of the law. “poll tax” It will prevent voters from accessing the ballot and confuse them. But the ban on donated spaces “would be devastating,” Clark said in a news conference last week.

Churches and religious spaces accounted for 664 of the state’s 3,355 polling places in 2020. More than 40% of polling locations in five counties were occupied by religious spaces, while more than 20% of those in 15 counties were occupied by religious spaces. According to Progress Michigan, about half of the polling sites in Genesee and Kalamazoo, Kent, and Ottawa counties could be lost. Religious sites also made up more than 25% of polling locations in the state’s largest counties, Wayne and Oakland. Nearly 111 cities and towns used churches for 50% or more of their polling locations, while 28 cities and towns used churches for 100%.

Ingham County, which covers most of Lansing and is susceptible to losing a quarter its polling locations.

“The most effective way to kill something in government is to cut off its funding,” Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum told Salon. “Republicans, through this petition, are trying to starve our clerks, who safeguard and administer our democracy, of funding in every way possible. The result will be a democratic system that is anything but.”

Clark said that 16 polling places were available in Delta township for 26,000 voters. Twelve of these are located at religious sites. The proposed ban would mean that local election clerks would have no choice but to accept less polling locations or to pay for access to sites they otherwise might have had free of charge.

“I wake up in the middle of the night and think, ‘Where am I going to put 26,000 voters?’ There are townships that don’t have a township hall. What are you going to do in a small community?” she said, adding, “It’s alarming, it’s frustrating, and it’s scary. … It’s starting to create panic about how we are going to manage this.”

Jamie Roe (a spokesperson for SecureMI Vote ballot committee) did not respond to questions SalonBut he defended it in a statement to Associated Press.

“We do not believe that it is improper for churches to serve as polling places,” he said. “It’s wholly appropriate. The fact of the matter is, though, churches are providing a benefit to the public and they should be compensated for that benefit.”

The initiative does not provide funds for local election clerks to pay the cost of new polling places. This could mean that cash-strapped officials will have to reduce the number polling locations. The report stated that this could result in longer lines and longer travel times for voters to get there. However, state law requires that election clerks provide a minimum number polling places based on the population. This means that local election officials will need to find ways to stretch their budgets to pay for locations they wouldn’t have had access to.

“Banning donated spaces while not also increasing budgets for local clerks will mean that precincts have to move to cheap, inaccessible spaces, be consolidated, or be paid for at the expense of other necessary fiscal expenditures for the smooth operations of the municipal clerks’ offices,” Bynum explained. “So it will be difficult for voters to use, will be consolidated so that lines are long and force voters to wait for hours to cast a ballot, or will disrupt the local clerks in carrying out their duties in other, unforeseen ways.”

Confusion could also result from changing the polling location that voters have used for many years. When voters who have been voting at the same location for years “show up to vote and are turned away, they are being disenfranchised,” Byrum said.

The new report only addresses houses of worship. However, the petition language would ban clerks using schools and senior centres as polling sites.

These locations “all give this space as their contribution to our democracy and their community,” Clark said. “It’s quite unsettling.”

The religious sites listed in the report as “just the tip of the iceberg,” said Sam Inglot, deputy director of Progress Michigan.

“This proposal will negatively impact voters and clerks across Michigan,” he said. “This initiative will change where voters have voted in previous elections, in some cases for decades, and could reduce the overall number of polling places available to voters. This systematic defunding of our elections will result in longer lines, longer drives and less people able to make their voices heard.”

Clark stated that 82% of respondents to a survey of Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks were against at least one component of the petition. This led Clark to call for the group’s opposition.

“It’s not a Dem issue, it’s not a Republican issue, it’s a voter issue,” she said, adding that no one from the state legislature reached out to the group for input on the provision.

The Secure MI Vote petition proposal is similar to the voting restrictions that Republicans introduced in the state legislature. This was amid a slew Republican legislation restricting nationwide ballot access amid baseless allegations of voter corruption from President Donald Trump and his aides. But the ban on private contributions seems to be directed at Republican suspicions. “Zuck bucks,” Private grants from a non-profit that was funded by Mark Zuckerberg or his wife Priscilla Chan.

The couple gave $400 million The Center for Technology and Civic Life is a non-profit that donated funding to local election officials in order to assist them with conducting elections during the pandemic. According to the organization, the funds, which included nearly $8 million donated to cash-strapped Michigan election officials, were intended for hiring poll workers, equipment, PPE, and renting polling stations.

The organization claimed that it donated funds for urban, suburban, or rural areas. However, Republican lawmakers disagree. raised suspicions over “what strings are attached” to the grants and whether third-party group donations may favor liberal areas. Trump associates have used the donations to claim that tech “oligarchs” are “buying the administration of the state’s elections.”

Byrum rejected the Republican argument, questioning whether lawmakers also want to ban sheriffs from using grant money because it is “tantamount to buying off law enforcement.”

“Is Mark Zuckerberg calling up 1,600 local clerks in Michigan? We have dozens of safeguards that prevent malfeasance at every level,” she said. “We can review paper ballots if needed, the results are tabulated, canvassed, audited, audited a second time and can be recounted if the candidate believes there is some kind of error.”

In addition to the negative impact of the ban on donated space, the prohibition on cash-strapped election clerks accepting outside funding could make administering elections more difficult.

“No other constitutional office holders are restricted from accepting grants and donations to supplement the meager funding that we get to do the jobs that the constitution requires of us,” Byrum said. “Clerks use these grants to buy ballot drop boxes, tabulators, envelope openers and office supplies.”

Republicans in Michigan and around the country have framed their onslaught of new voting restrictions as necessary to preserve “election integrity” amid Trump’s years-long fear-mongering over baseless allegations of voter fraud and unfounded concerns about mail voting. Republicans in Michigan and other states disagree. failed to find any evidence of voter fraudSome have even been able to do so. admitted To counter the rise in voter turnout caused by the expansion of mail voting during pandemic, their party must impose restrictions.

“Let me be absolutely clear about what the intent is of this petition as well as other efforts by Republican lawmakers in Michigan and across the country: The intent is to ensure that fewer people vote,” Byrum said. “In Michigan, the Senate Republican leader stated that more voters did not ‘accrue to his interest’ During the 2020 elections. This is not only true for 2020. Republicans have tried to suppress the vote for decades because when more people vote, they lose.”