If Republicans pass these 39 bills, rights that helped Michiganders shatter voter turnout records during the pandemic would be stripped.
ALLEGAN, Mich.—Last election, voting was something that most Michiganders could do from their living rooms.
It was deeply appreciated by voters, who felt more comfortable and informed than ever with the ability to research what they were voting on and take their time weighing decisions.
“It was different because I had to send out a request to get my ballot for the August and November election which was weird, and then it was mailed to me about a week later,” Allegan resident Samantha Broadbent told The ‘Gander during last year’s election. “I opened it and there was the envelope it came in, the secrecy envelope and then my ballot which I did on my couch and then I just put it in the mail. I did like it. There was no standing in line … and for someone like me who doesn’t always have transportation to get to the polling place it was great to have that as an option.”
In 2018, Michiganders overwhelmingly voted to make voting easier and more accessible, to allow more lawful votes to be cast. As a result, 2020 smashed absentee voting records with few instances of rejected ballots.
But, following the 2020 defeat of former president Donald Trump and his efforts to overturn the result of the election, Michigan Republicans have launched a sweeping voter restrictions package to undo much of what Michigan voters put into place.
Voting from your living room is, in other words, about to get a lot harder. That’s the same with drop boxes, and absentee for any reason.
A growing consensus of Michiganders oppose this, but still, the Republican-controlled state Senate passed the first pieces of its 39-bill voting restrictions package in June.
“With that in mind, you just see bills that will make it a heck of a lot harder for Michiganders to vote,” state Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Canton) told The ‘Gander. She’s among the many progressive leaders who oppose restricting voting access. “Harder to vote at the polls, harder to get an absentee ballot. And I think it’s really disgusting to be frank.”
And in this battle to make their voices easily heard, Michiganders are far from alone.
Why Republicans Seek to Weaken Voters’ Voices
Voter suppression is now a nationwide effort spearheaded by conservative political organizations. Some, like Heritage, have gained traction and even boasted about their influence over Georgia’s massive voter restrictions making elections harder for the people.
“The situation we’re facing is not unique to Michigan, this is happening all across the country,” said Polehanki. “Just to get right down to the nitty-gritty, the reason I believe this is happening is because when voter turnout is high, Democrats usually have an advantage.”
Polehanki’s interpretation has been backed up by the words of advocates of limiting voter access for years. While explanations for the voter restriction packages across the country usually cite concerns over election fraud, even Michigan Republicans admit it wasn’t an issue in the most recent election.
But in a few candid moments, Republicans behind these efforts have confessed to using voter restrictions for their own political advantage.
For instance, an untrue but widely believed myth is that mail-in ballots heavily favor Democratic candidates, so during the 2020 election Trump worried that mail in voting would allow more Democrats to cast lawful ballots, effectively ending Republican presidencies. He pursued an aggressive campaign against mail-in voting believing it would help Republicans win in 2020 despite statistics suggesting that mail-in voting doesn’t actually favor one party over another.
This was quietly admitted in Michigan as far back as 2019, where the state’s Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey told the Detroit News that despite elections being intended to capture the voices of all Michiganders, he wasn’t actually interested in high turnout in 2020.
“I think it’s a very high, high likelihood that we will have a very big turnout in Michigan, and a big turnout in Michigan doesn’t necessarily accrue to my interests,” he said.
Just like the misconception about voting by mail leading to people of all political alignments being disenfranchised, other policies proposed by Republicans in an effort to prevent Democrats from voting also hurt their own constituents among rural and elderly voters. A strong example of this is the question of voter identification laws.
The Fight to Be Heard
One newly proposed bill would weaponize identification and exclude the voters who wouldn’t have it, for a host of reasons, such as those who don’t have access to IDs like the poor or disabled.
People who don’t drive can often make their way on expired identification for years without issue, and so may also be unable to provide ID at the polls. Limits to early voting also disproportionately impact people unable to take off time from work to vote, or who might struggle to find child care.
Timing of when polls open are another way that Republicans have found ways to limit access for eligible voters.
And that question of timing got particularly targeted in Texas, where proposals banned early voting on Sunday mornings which directly impacted Black churches which would often go from pews directly to polls as a group. That proposal was abandoned after the connection with disenfranchising Black Texans made headlines, but if enacted would’ve had serious effects both on changing outcomes of elections and preventing votes from religious Texans from being easily considered.
Reminders about voting by mail can help Michiganders not miss deadlines to file for absentee ballots, and banning nonpartisan poll challengers from observing the election from a neutral political point of view ensures that only those with a biased viewpoint can oversee the process. Those are also under threat from the 39-bill voter suppression package.
Running Afoul of Federal Voting Rights
But these policies, including those proposed in Michigan, may face a challenge from the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ is charged with ensuring states comply with laws protecting federal voting rights, and can step in and sue when a state violates those rights in some situations.
Polehanki takes some heart in the thought that the DOJ could act to protect Michiganders’ right to vote if the Legislature chooses to endanger it.
“I’m glad the DOJ is taking some action, because there are a lot of bad players even here in Michigan,” she said in reference to people attempting to advance conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said the department is staffing up specifically to fight election restriction laws like those Michigan Republicans plan to enact in courtrooms nationwide.
“There are many things that are open to debate in America,” Garland said in a recent speech. “But the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them. The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow.”
But the chance the DOJ steps in can’t be the only hope for Michiganders, says Polehanki.
While she raised alarm that these pieces of legislation could realistically become law an impact the 2022 election, she also emphasized the importance of Michiganders making their voices heard.
To that end, she encouraged Michiganders to be armed with accurate information, like the fact that the Republican-controlled Senate found no evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 election and dismissed those who spread that conspiratorial rhetoric as doing so for their own benefit.
“The 2020 election [was] one of the safest in the history of Michigan,” Polehanki told The ‘Gander. “There was no fraud in our elections and Michiganders can be assured that the right people won.”