At the beginning of July, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder surprised many by breaking party lines and vetoing three suppressive election laws, H.B. 5061, S.B. 803, and S.B. 754. While this is a victory for voting rights advocates, they are not out of the woods yet. Despite the vetoes, the Michigan legislature is reintroducing some of this suppressive legislation. Unfortunately, it looks like Michiganders will need Governor Snyder to continue to stand up for their voting rights. It is unfortunate that Michigan lawmakers are focused on legislation that discourages voting rather than encouraging it -- a far too common approach as of late.
Lawmakers have reintroduced H.B. 5061 without changes and S.B. 803 under a new number, S.B. 1219. There is no activity yet on S.B. 754, about which FELN has written before. H.B. 5061 and S.B. 1219 require voters to check a box on ballots to indicate they are U.S. citizens. On its face, this may sound like a reasonable requirement. Of course only U.S. citizens should vote in U.S. elections. However, the reality is that every voter registration form already requires every voter to attest to his or her U.S. citizenship. The only thing this legislation will do is ensure that some citizens who unintentionally overlook a check box lose their right to vote.
Governor Snyder vetoed these bills because of the confusion they would cause voters and voter registration organizations. He pointed out that the passage of these laws close to election time risked disturbing election activities that are already underway, such as ongoing voter registration drives. However, when vetoing these bills he said that he wished to work with the Michigan House and Senate to address voting issues and, “implement improvements to our system.” Gov. Snyder even spelled out specific modifications to the bills he vetoed which have not been addressed so far. Regarding H.B. 5061 and S.B. 803, Snyder suggested that the affirmation of citizenship be included in the “voter’s opening declarative statement on the application” rather than in a separate section that could be overlooked.
The lawmakers who brought the bills back up are not acting in the spirit of cooperation that Gov. Snyder evoked. Additionally, these lawmakers are disregarding Snyder’s concerns about the timing of this legislation by trying to force these bills through just over three months before Election Day. The legislature did not take Gov. Snyder’s suggestion of putting the affirmation of citizenship in the opening declarative statement. Instead, S.B. 1219 is identical to S.B. 803 except for one new clause which allows a court to re-validate a previously uncounted absentee ballot if it was originally not counted because the voter did not check the citizenship box but that voter can prove citizenship in court. Because this semblance of compromise requires so much time and money, a de facto problem remains that if someone does not check the duplicative citizenship box (which the governor of Michigan thinks would happen) that person’s vote will not be counted.
The bills once again being supported are petty and do not protect elections against anything. They can only cause confusion and disenfranchisement of law-abiding citizens. Do members of the Michigan legislature really believe this is what their constituents want? It is unknown how these voting laws will pan out. One can only hope that Snyder’s words in his veto message are followed, “voting rights are precious and we need to work especially hard to make it possible for people to vote.”