Thursday, July 12, 2012

Voter Suppression in Michigan



The following is an editorial written by State Representative Barb Byrum (D-Onondaga). If you have questions about this commentary, please contact Rep. Byrum's office by calling (517) 373-0587.

Republicans in the legislature recently passed House Bill 5061 and Senate Bills 751 and 803, which would add unnecessary barriers to the voting process and would suppress the vote in Michigan. These bills could have had very serious implications for all voters, but seemed to most directly endanger the voting rights of the elderly, disabled voters, students, people of color and the poor by adding obstacles to voting in Michigan. Fortunately, last week, Gov. Snyder - after hearing objections from voting rights activists, community organizations and Democratic legislators - had the courage to veto these three bills. Gov. Snyder did what is right and just for Michigan citizens by standing up to legislative Republicans, yet now, members from his own party are turning against him for taking a necessary stand.

I cannot in good conscience sit by and let Republican Senator Robertson claim ignorance and blame the governor for not expressing concerns with legislation when, in fact, I and the other Democratic members on the House Redistricting and Elections Committee did express many concerns including, but not limited to, those expressed by Gov. Snyder.  In fact, we even offered amendments to address a number of these concerns in committee and again on the House Floor.

SB 754 would have created new, burdensome requirements for third-party voter registration organizations like the nonpartisan League of Women Voters.  The bill was returned to the legislature by the governor because the language "pertaining to the registration of third party voter registration organizations, and the timing and training of those entities, may cause confusion with regard to ongoing voter registration efforts." 

What's ironic is that both in committee and on the House floor we offered amendments to directly address such concerns. Our amendments would have required the Secretary of State to develop a training program within seven days of the effective date of the bill and make the trainings available in Lansing and online. Further, every county and municipal clerk would have had to provide this training in their area at least once per week.  Another amendment would have allowed outside, nonprofit organizations to provide the same training programs. Additionally, my Democratic colleagues and I raised many concerns in committee about the lack of detail in the legislation regarding the trainings, their timing, and when and how they would be offered - the same concerns raised by the Governor.

The governor also was wary with provisions in HB 5061 and SB 803 that would have required voters to check a citizenship box before their ballot was counted, claiming it could cause "confusion among absentee voters." Again, we voiced our concerns a number of times during the legislative process with the Secretary of State and House Republicans that these provisions would lead to disenfranchisement of eligible voters - an outrageous outcome for any legislative measure deemed an "election reform." Creating hurdles between a voter and the voting booth is a step backward, not a reform.

Our major concerns with the overall concept of these bills is that they would have undoubtedly suppressed the vote by disenfranchising voters and discouraging voter registration and turnout. The technical amendments we offered and the concerns we raised throughout the legislative process, all of which were rejected or ignored, directly addressed the Governor's concerns. 

Rather than playing partisan politics, we should be focused on creating jobs, investing in education and making sure Michigan is a great place to raise a family.
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