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Voting rights advocates battle bills that make voting tougher

“Respect our vote,” said Derrick Paymon

Advocacy groups cry ‘foul’ over bills to weaken Michigan residents’ ability to cast their ballot

LANSING — Voting rights advocates from the Michigan League of Women Voters, Common Cause, Project Vote and the A. Philip Randolph Institute spoke out May 22 against a package of bills expected to pass in the Michigan House. The legislation would make it more difficult for Michigan voters to cast their ballot at local elections.

“These bills are part of a larger push nationally to make voting more difficult,” said Melanie McElroy of Common Cause. “More than a thousand bills have been introduced in state legislatures in the last 10 years that put barriers between citizens and the ballot. These include restrictions on voter registration, early voting and new ID requirements.”

This package of bills working its way through the Michigan House and Senate will create more obstacles to voting for Michigan citizens. The bills add burdensome restrictions and regulations to community organizations that register voters, establish a photo ID requirement for absentee voting and establish a new citizenship requirement for Michigan citizens voting at polls and via absentee ballot.

“The new training and certification requirements will make it more difficult to hold registration drives and reduce opportunities for citizens to register to vote,” said Sue Smith, president of the League of Women Voters of Michigan. “Florida, which passed a similar law last year, has seen a reduction of over 80,000 new registered voters compared to the same time period in 2008.”

Testimony on the proposed bills has been heard in the House Redistricting and Elections Committee, and adds a number of bureaucratic hoops to jump through, including:

-Community voter registration drives could be hampered by the rules because they will need to register with the state, become “agents,” receive training and may be penalized;

– New citizenship requirements are unnecessary as the current practice of checking signature and date of birth is effective;

– New voter purging proposals could remove qualified voters from rolls;

– The photo voter ID requirements for registration and absentee ballots could disenfranchise voters who do not have the IDs.

“Michigan’s seniors and low-income residents have a target on their backs and these bills will make it tougher for them to cast their ballots,” said Anita Dawson, of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. “This adds obstacles for people at the A. Philip Randolph Institute and other community organizations to help Michigan citizens register to vote. Everyone in Michigan has a right to be heard, and the ability to send their message loud and clear with a vote is being silenced by these bad bills.”

“We should be encouraging people to vote, and instead we’re making it nearly impossible,” said Steve Wooden, a student at Michigan State University. “I’m a college student who knows all too well how difficult it is to vote via absentee ballot. How can legislators properly serve their constituents when a huge section of the voters are denied one of our most fundamental rights, the right to vote?”

 

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