GOP tightens up same-day voter registration outlined in Proposal 3

Lame Duck protest at the Michigan Capitol, Dec. 12, 2018 | Ken Coleman

GOP Gov. Rick Snyder will have to decide whether to sign off on legislation that makes changes to a voting-rights proposal passed last month.

Voting-rights advocates say that legislative changes made tonight to Proposal 3 proposal will dampen the intended effects. But the heart and soul of the Promote the Vote campaign remains intact, a spokesperson for the group said on Thursday night.

Rick Snyder

“I think they’re limited. Because it’s a constitutional amendment, there’s only so much the Legislature is able to do,” Promote the Vote spokesman Todd Cook told the Advance tonight.

The proposal was approved by almost 67 percent of Michigan voters on Nov. 6 — the biggest win margin of the three initiatives on the ballot.

The Michigan House voted 57-51 on Senate Bill 1238, sponsored by Sen. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake). The Michigan Senate, which passed the legislation earlier this month, quickly gave its final approval, sending the bill to Snyder.

The most significant change to the proposal revolves around same-day voter registration. SB 1238 only allows that at a county clerk’s main office, rather than at polling locations or satellite clerk’s offices, as many other states allow.

Many House Democrats expressed concern that limiting the locations where people could register on the day of elections would particularly affect those in the state’s biggest cities. GOP officials, however, contend that with automatic registration, the vast majority of people will already be registered.

Nonetheless, the proposed changes to alter the intent of the ballot proposal will dampen some of the impact that the ballot initiative was intended to have, said Cook.

“Would I call it a gutting? No. Is it a significant thing that will kind of impede the impact, especially in busy cities [like] Flint, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor? Absolutely. But I couldn’t call it a gutting,” he said.

Aaron Miller

Rep. Aaron Miller (R-Sturgis), who chairs the House Elections and Ethics Committee, which approved the bill changes Wednesday morning, disagrees with Cook’s assessment. He pointed to the automatic registration provisions included in the ballot proposal.

“I heard the big city problem mentioned in committee … and I don’t buy that as being unreasonable if you’re registering on the same day,” Miller told reporters on Wednesday. “Again, there’s ample opportunity to do that, but automatic registration is going to take care of the broad majority of it.”

In a committee hearing yesterday opposing the changes, Rep. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) noted Proposal 3’s popularity, calling it the “winning-est thing on the ballot.”

Given the overwhelming support the measure received, House Democrats angrily spoke out about SB 1238 tonight..

House Minority Floor Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) said in a statement that Republicans are playing “games with the ballot initiatives that voters supported resoundingly in November. The changes made to Proposal 3 are a sad last-ditch effort to keep the voter suppression tactics Republicans have been implementing the last eight years in place. The people of Michigan made it clear that they want more accessibility in the election process, not more obstacles.”

That rings true to Cook, who acknowledged that the changes could have been worse. But the GOP maneuvering falls in line with the broader themes of going against the will of voters that have been prevalent in many of the Lame Duck bills, he said.

Christine Greig speaking on the House floor against Proposal 3 changes, Dec. 20, 2018

The Legislature has considered a host of alterations to the three initiatives voters approved on Nov. 6. Changes to Proposal 1 legalizing marijuana never mustered support. Legislation stalled fiddling with the independent redistricting commission called for by Proposal 2.

However, the House last week voted for new limits on ballot proposals. A Senate panel on Wednesday also moved out HB 6595, sponsored by state Rep. Jim Lower (R-Cedar Lake). The bill is awaiting a vote of the full Senate.

The bill caps the percentage of signatures that could be collected from one congressional district to 15 percent of the total number of signatures. Democrats say that unfairly targets Michigan’s population bases in cities and suburbs and the argue the legislation is retaliation for the success of this year’s progressive initiatives.

“It’s an unfortunate trend in Lansing,” Cook said. “Instead of debating policy and putting up the ideas of different viewpoints and talking about the merits, we’ve fallen into this trap of just changing the rules — and therefore it doesn’t matter what the policy is.”

Advance reporter Michael Gerstein contributed to this report.

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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