A few days ago, after Trump made the unsubstantiated claim that “millions” of people had voted illegally for his opponent during the recent presidential election, we discussed the possibility that this heightened rhetoric of his concerning voter fraud, which was particularly odd given the fact that he’d won the election, might have been a preemptive justification for significantly expanded Republican voter suppression efforts intended to influence the outcomes of future elections by keeping even more Americans of color from voting. Well, it looks like it’s already beginning to happen here in Michigan.
This morning, in a meeting of the House Elections Committee, Republican Lisa Posthumous Lyons, of Michigan’s 86th District, proposed a series of bills [HB 6066, 6067, and 6068] intended to make voting in Michigan more difficult for people of lesser financial means by putting significant new hurdles in place.
HB 6066, if passed, would require that people obtain photo identification before being allowed to vote in Michigan. [The current system allows for people to sign an affidavit attesting to the fact that they are who they claim to be.] The other two bills, as I understand it, would make state ID and birth records available for free in Michigan. This, I’m told, is being done not because Republicans want to make IDs more accessible, but because, if they didn’t make IDs and birth certificates available for free, HB 6066 would likely be found unconstitutional, as, under current law, you cannot require that people be forced to spend money in order to vote, as doing so would be considered a poll tax… I suppose, however, it’s acceptable under the constitution to require that people expend the effort to track down documentation and spend hours on end waiting in line for an ID.
[Sorry for the interruption, but I’ve got a question… What happens when someone living here in Michigan wasn’t born here, and needs to acquire a birth certificate from out-of-state in order to attain a state issued ID? Will the state be reimbursing people if fees are involved? And, if not, wouldn’t that constitute a poll tax?]
And, I know we’ve discussed it before, but it’s probably worth noting again that, despite what Trump may have tweeted earlier this week about “millions” of people assuming false identities to vote, America does not have a problem when it comes to voter impersonation. Voter fraud, at least on the individual level, as anyone who works in this field will tell you, is extremely rare. In evidence of this fact, a comprehensive investigation in 2014 found that, out of 1 billion votes cast in the United States, there were only 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation. And, this past election cycle, the only documented instance, at least to my knowledge, was a single woman in Iowa who was caught attempting to vote for Trump twice. So, this legislation being put forward by Lyons, at best, is a solution in need of a problem. At worst, however, it’s a very deliberate attempt to discourage a relatively significant portion of our population from voting. [It’s estimated that over 10% of eligible American voters do not have any official form of identification.]
By way of context, here’s a clip from The Nation about what Republicans have already done to gut the Voting Rights Act and “institutionalize voter suppression at every level of government.”
…We can already glimpse how a Trump administration will undermine voting rights, based on the people he nominated to top positions, those he has advising him, and his own statements.
His pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, wrongly prosecuted black civil-rights activists for voter fraud in Alabama in the 1980s, called the Voting Rights Act “a piece of intrusive legislation,” and praised the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013…
If you want a better idea of the lengths a Trump administration might go to suppress voting rights, take a look at what Republicans are doing in North Carolina right now. A month after the Supreme Court ruled that states with a long history of discrimination no longer had to approve their voting changes with the federal government, North Carolina Republicans passed a “monster” voter-suppression law that required strict photo ID, cut early voting, and eliminated same-day registration and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds.
Like in so many-GOP controlled states, Republicans in North Carolina justified the voting restrictions by spreading false claims about voter fraud. (Such fraud was in fact exceedingly rare: There were only two cases of voter impersonation in North Carolina from 2002 to 2012 out of 35 million votes cast.)
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that North Carolina’s law targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision.” But even after the court restored a week of early voting, GOP-controlled county election boards limited early voting hours and polling locations. The executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party called on Republicans to make “party line changes to early voting” that included opposing polling sites on college campuses and prohibiting early voting on Sundays, when black churches held “Souls to the Polls” voter-mobilization drives. The North Carolina GOP bragged before Election Day that “African American Early Voting is down 8.5% from this time in 2012. Caucasian voters early voting is up 22.5% from this time in 2012.”…
Before we move on, it should also be noted that, as a result of those 2013 changes to the Voting Rights Act noted above, there were 868 fewer polling places this year than in 2012, and a majority of those closures were in states like Louisiana and Mississippi, that have a history of voter suppression.
So, now Michigan is headed down the same slippery slope, attempting to put even greater hurdles before the voting public, in hopes of keeping them from the polls. It’s apparently not enough that they’ve gerrymandered the hell out of our voting districts in order to ensure that they will remain in power even as they continue to lose the popular vote in Michigan, but they’re now attempting to ensure that those who aren’t likely Republican stay away from the polls.
But there’s something that you can do to stop it from happening. First thing Thursday morning, before the members of the House Elections Committee meet, you can call them in their offices and demand that they table House Bill 6066 until such time that they can prove we have a voter impersonation problem in Michigan. Here are the members of the committee.
Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R) Committee Chair, 86th District
Eric Leutheuser (R) Majority Vice-Chair, 58th District
Bradford Jacobsen (R) 46th District
Aric Nesbitt (R) 66th District
Klint Kesto (R) 39th District
Gretchen Driskell (D) Minority Vice-Chair, 52nd District
Jeff Irwin (D) 53rd District
Jon Hoadley (D) 60th District
If you follow those links, you’ll find their phone numbers. Just call and say, “I expect you to keep HB 6066 from leaving committee.” And then share this post with your friends around the state of Michigan, especially those who live in the districts of the Republicans noted above, and ask them to do the same.
And, if we can’t keep HB 6066 in committee, and the Republicans try to rush it through to a vote in the Michigan House, be prepared to call your State Rep and demand that they not vote for this legislation. You can find the contact information for your State Rep here. [I’m told that this could leave committee and go to a vote on the floor of the House as early as tomorrow, so be ready to call your Rep as soon as you hear anything. Or, better yet, call you Rep proactively and say, “If HB 606 leaves committee and comes to a vote, I expect you to vote against it.]
I know it may not sound like a big deal to require that people have photo IDs in order to vote. You might be thinking, “I stood in line at the Secretary of State office, why can’t everyone else?” The truth is, however, that not everyone has the means to track down the required paperwork, or the time to invest in navigating the state bureaucracy. More importantly, though, we should be looking ways to open up access right now, and not limit it. Not only is there no credible evidence that voter fraud, like that which HB 6066 is seeking to stop, even exists, but a huge percentage of our citizens aren’t participating as it is. [Michigan, with a population of 9.91 million, has 7,481,074 registered voters, 4.9 million of whom voted in the last presidential election.] If we want to pass any election related laws right now, they should be directed toward increasing access, not limiting it.
And, one last thing… If we don’t stop this now, they’ll keep at it. You can be sure there will be even fewer polling places in communities of color, and even greater hurdles intended to keep certain people from voting. As we’ve discussed before, the Republicans cannot win otherwise. They just don’t have the numbers. So they need to find ways, through gerrymandering and voter suppression, to stay in power. And it’s our job not only to stop them, but to turn the tide in the other direction, fighting for non-partisan redistricting, early voting, and anything else that we can think of to increase democratic participation.
So start calling, OK? The assault isn’t coming. It’s already here. And we need to start fighting.