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Grade TL;DR

Over the last two years, the Michigan State Legislature passed a mixed bag of voting legislation with many anti-voter measures and some pro-voter measures proposed. However, the Legislature failed to work with the governor on any of the legislation, so instead of signing the bills into law, the governor vetoed many of the election-related bills. Only three minor pro-voter bills passed in 2022, which were part of a bipartisan package deal. Though some progress was made in the Legislature and through executive action, the opportunity cost of passing key legislation due to the Legislature’s inability to work with the governor over the last two years, as well as the sheer amount of anti-voter legislation proposed by the Legislature is impossible to ignore. The missed opportunities and potential for pro-voter rollbacks here outweigh many of the positives seen in Michigan, which is why Michigan received a C+ on this year’s scorecard. Although the Legislature didn’t perform as well as we’d hoped (hence the C+), Michigan voters positively addressed numerous election administration issues in November by passing the Promote the Vote Initiative.

Looking Back

Where Michigan Started in 2020

  • Automatic Voter Registration: Front-End
  • Online Voter Registration: DMV ID
  • Same-Day Registration: Yes
  • Restoration of Rights: Prison Disenfranchisement
  • Vote by Mail: No-Excuse
  • Electronic Registration Information Center Member: Yes
  • Early Voting Opportunities: In-Person Absentee
  • ID Requirements: ID Requested, but not Required

Relying on the Cost of Voting Index for Michigan as of 2020, we considered the state a top tier state for pre-existing voting policy and compared its 2021-22 activity against other top tier states.

How Our Tier Compares:

  • COVI (2020): 13th
  • EPI Score (2020): 7th
  • CLC State Scorecard (2022): 9/10
  • MAP Democracy Rating (2022): MEDIUM

2021: Two Years Ago

Legislative Action

  • During the 2021 session, the Legislature introduced nearly 100 election-related bills, more than half of which contained anti-voter provisions. The Legislature was unable to pass some of the strongest anti-voter bills that were proposed, and instead ended up passing a mix of anti-voter changes to ID rules as well as a few slightly helpful election administration bills. However, all of them were ultimately vetoed, a result of the Legislature’s unwillingness to engage with the governor.
  • The Legislature did not make meaningful progress on challenges that became apparent in the 2020 election, including the need for mail ballot pre-processing and improvements to certification processes to prevent partisan tampering with election results.

Executive Action

  • Governor Whitmer vetoed all of the election-related bills passed by the Legislature, including: 
    • S 303, which would have revised voter ID requirements to require voters who lack ID to cast provisional ballots. These voters would then be required to show election officials an acceptable ID and residence/citizenship documentation within six days after the election in order for their provisional ballot to be counted. Existing law allows a voter to sign an affidavit confirming their identity and then cast a regular ballot. Use of these affidavits is incredibly rare and generally limited to individuals who have temporarily misplaced their ID.
    • S 277, which would have required county election officials to update the qualified voter file to remove deceased voters on a monthly basis and required more frequent checks for deceased voters starting the last 45 days before an election.
    • H 4492, which would have allowed polling places to be sited within privately-owned buildings such as apartment complexes and clubhouses, if publicly-owned buildings were not available or conveniently located.
    • H 4837, which would have limited access to the qualified voter file to the secretary of state, election officials and staff, and relevant maintenance and vendor staff.

2022: This Past Year

Legislative Action

  • The Legislature introduced dozens of anti-voter bills during the 2022 session and managed to pass a mix of anti-voter provisions and positive voter list maintenance practices. Similarly to 2021, all three election-related bills were ultimately vetoed by the governor as the Legislature did not engage her through the process.
  • The Legislature ultimately passed a bipartisan deal consisting of three bills that was signed into law by Governor Whitmer.
    • H 4491 allows limited mail ballot pre-processing, while strengthening the state’s list maintenance procedures, and also allows for more outside challengers to monitor voting processes. However, the provision regarding outside challenges must be monitored to ensure that efforts to increase transparency do not provide a route for interference in election administration processes or election security.
    • H 6071 allows municipalities to use privately-owned spaces for polling places, if suitable public spaces are unavailable.
    • S 311 allows active-duty military members to return a ballot electronically by using a “DOD-verified electronic signature.”

Ballot Initiatives

  • Michigan voters chose by a wide margin to revise the state’s constitution to improve absentee voting, establish a nine-day early voting period, establish reasonable identity verification, protect election funding, create a permanent mail voter list, and require drop boxes among other things under the “Promote the Vote 2022” ballot initiative.
  • A competing anti-voter “Secure MI Vote” initiative that would have tightened voter ID laws, rolled back absentee voting, and banned private funding of elections did not secure the necessary signatures to make the ballot in 2022.

While both these efforts have been citizen-led initiatives rather than legislatively driven, their passage or failure will likely shape the Legislature’s future actions, or inactions, on election laws.

Executive Action

  • Again, Governor Whitmer vetoed several election-related bills passed by the Legislature in 2022, including:
    • S 302, which would add new threatening language to voter registration applications that would likely scare away eligible voters.
    • H 4127, which would have targeted for removal from the voter rolls a small number of voters with placeholder dates of birth.
    • H 4128, similar to H 4127, which would have required voters that had not voted since 2000 to respond to an election notice and confirm their current address. Voters that failed to respond to the notice or engage in other election-related activities would then have their registration subject to cancellation.
  • Earlier this summer, Governor Whitmer issued Executive Directive 2022-4 to increase voter registration opportunities in the state. The directive requires state departments and agencies to “identify and assess” new opportunities for Michiganders to be able to register to vote and receive voting information at their offices. 
  • Secretary Benson stood up for voters by rejecting proposed anti-voter changes to the existing signature review regulations. In rejecting the changes, Benson noted that the regulations were “based on facts, data and longstanding nonpartisan standard election administration practices that support Michigan voters.”