‘Big Day for Democracy’: New Legislation to Cement Clear Voting Rights for All Michiganders 

Voters check in at a polling station to cast their ballots in Detroit during the midterm elections. (Photo by Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

By Kyle Kaminski

June 27, 2023

Four new bills introduced last week by Democratic state lawmakers aim to combat discrimination and disinformation by firmly protecting Michiganders’ right to access the ballot. 

MICHIGAN—Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Democratic state lawmakers have a new plan to help keep Michiganders protected amid an ongoing nationwide attack on voting rights.

It’s called the Michigan Voting Rights Act.

The new state legislation—comprising four Senate bills that were introduced last week—essentially mirrors and expands on the federal Voting Rights Act, which state officials said has been weakened in recent years and now requires additional, state-level protections.

“We are in the midst of a multi-year, multi-faceted battle for the future of our democracy,” Benson said last week, pointing to the US Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder

That 5-4 ruling from 2013 essentially gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, clearing the way for individual state legislatures to pass their own array of voter suppression laws—including shortening windows for early voting, enacting strict voter ID laws, and purging voter rolls.

Over the last decade, advocacy groups like the ACLU have said changes spurred on by the Supreme Court decision have only made it harder for Americans—particularly Black people, seniors, students, and people with disabilities—to exercise their fundamental right to vote.

Michigan, under Democratic control this year, has only strengthened voting rights—including recent legislation that aims to expand access to early voting. Other recent reforms were enough to have the state billed as a “national model” for strengthening democracy.

Still, Benson said the new legislation represents a necessary next step for Michigan.

“Today is a big day for democracy in Michigan,” Benson added. “The MVRA represents a historic pledge to every Michigan citizen that their right to vote is sacred and will be protected.”

If passed and signed into law, Senate Bills 401404 would do four things for Michiganders:

  • Prohibit any future measures to deny, dilute, or suppress Michiganders from voting
  • Require election officials provide election materials in languages other than English to ensure that language minority groups in Michigan have an equal opportunity to vote
  • Bolster protections for voters with disabilities or who otherwise need help voting
  • Prohibit intimidation, coercion, and other deceptive practices that are intended to suppress voting or result in certain classes of people not participating in an election

State officials said voter suppression laws in other states have created significant burdens for eligible voters. Passing clear-cut legislation about voting rights in Michigan would help ensure that voting rights stay protected, and that voters are never cut out of the Democratic process.

Benson added: “As democracy continues to endure the challenges of a multi-year effort to undermine it, this law will ensure that every citizen can have faith that their voice will be heard.”

The federal Voting Rights Act already provides protections for racial, ethnic, and language minority groups who historically—and currently—endure barriers to vote. State lawmakers said a “relentless assault” on the federal legislation has necessitated another layer of protections.

The four-bill package was sponsored by Sens. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton), Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Ericka Geiss (D-Taylor), and Jeremy Moss (D-Trenton). It was introduced Thursday and has since been referred to the Senate Committee on Election and Ethics for further review.

“This historic legislation is desperately needed to help counter ongoing attacks on voting both nationally and right here in Michigan, and it will better protect Michigan voters from being impacted by the erosion of voting rights at the federal level,” Camilleri said in a statement.

Added Geiss: “As forces around the country work to make it more difficult to vote and exclude people from their inalienable rights, Michigan is standing up to those ill-begotten forces to say to voters that your voice is heard and participation in our democracy matters.” 

READ MORE: Michigan Lawmakers to Turn Election Day into Election Week

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Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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