Gov. Whitmer Signs Historic Voter Rights Bills at Detroit NAACP Headquarters

Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony said it was fitting for the Detroit Chapter of the NAACP to serve as the host for Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who earlier today signed a historic package of voter rights bills aimed at clearing roadblocks for current and future voters.

“Michigan has a governor who understands the necessity to provide access, information, and protection for those in the family of Michiganders who seek to exercise their voting franchise,” said Anthony, the President of the Detroit NAACP. “The Michigan House of Representatives, under Speaker Joe Tate, and the Michigan Senate, under the Majority Leader Winnie Brinks, have been consistent in moving legislation forward from the floor of the House to the halls of the Senate, to the desk of our governor.”

The package of bills aims to ensure every vote in Michigan can be cast and counted, no matter who you are or where you live. The new laws will improve election efficiency, increase voter registration opportunities, and protect equal access to the ballot box.

Other aspects of the bills Whitmer signed will:

  • Ban deepfakes and puts barriers in place to protect against the misuse of artificial intelligence (AI) in campaign advertisements;
  • Allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote so they can exercise their constitutional right when they turn 18;
  • Criminalize violence or intimidation towards poll workers who are stepping up to serve their fellow citizens; and
  • Expand early voting for nine days before election day.

“We know exactly who the people making it harder to vote are targeting — communities of color, the elderly, the disabled, and young people,” said Whitmer.

“It’s people on the margins, people most impacted by public policy, people whose voices are essential in shaping our democracy. That’s why I am proud that we are also celebrating bills today repealing the ban on providing transportation to the polls and adding nine early voting days.”

In addition to those protections, the bills also wipe clear the previously imposed sanctions against people who provided rides to polling locations for voters who don’t have their own transportation.

“The penalty for helping someone get a ride to the polls – unless they physically could not walk – used only to state be $500 and up to 90 days in prison. We are the only state in the nation with that kind of law,” Whitmer said. “We know who it targets. Every election, churches in Black communities organize drives to take souls to the polls so parishioners can vote. In 2018, when Uber and Lyft offered people discounted rides to the polls, Michigan could not legally take part. If you wanted to get an Uber for your friend to get to the polls, Michigan said you were breaking the law. This law targeted elderly voters, communities of color, and voters without their own vehicles. It was unjust and antidemocratic. I am proud that we repealed it.”

Several local lawmakers chimed in to praise Whitmer on the historic bill package, which many said is a direct call to action against previously unconstitutional laws.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, for instance, said that these bills will allow for a secure and fair 2024 election, while Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II said these bills will ensure the expansion and strengthening of the democratic process. State Representative Jimmie Wilson, Jr. (D-Ypsilanti), sponsor of HB 4986, had one of his proposed bills signed. The bill makes sure that Michiganders can use an application for an enhanced license or enhanced state ID card as a voter registration application.

The new law governing election certification aligns Michigan with the federal Electoral Count Reform Act, which was introduced in Congress with some of the Republican co-sponsors and signed last year by Democratic President Joe Biden.

Among other things, the federal law makes clear that the vice president has a “ministerial” duty to count electoral votes that states send to congress, contradicting Trump’s claim that former Vice President Mike Pence could and should have blocked certification of the 2020 presidential election.

The new Michigan law similarly states that partisan election canvassers at both the county and state levels have a “ministerial, clerical, and nondiscretionary duty” to certify results based on results compiled by local clerks.

“’Big Gretch’ has used her pen well,” Anthony said. “Michigan has moved towards the top of those states that have an exemplary rank as it relates to voter access, registration, and participation I have never forgotten the words of the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, when speaking to the people in communities around America, ‘The one thing you got going is your one vote.’ Today, we are reminded once again of the one thing that we all got going, and that is of course our one vote.”

These bills build upon last year’s Proposal 2, which, among other things, expanded voting rights by allowing Michiganders to vote by mail with prepaid stamps and tracking numbers for their ballots, and ensured that service members serving overseas could vote easily, too.

“What a difference a new majority makes, right?” Whitmer quipped. “I remember the NAACP Freedom Fund Day Dinner right here in Detroit in 2021. In the months after the 2020 election – after the violence of January 6, after people threatened poll workers right here in Michigan – the previous legislature sent me 39 bills making it harder to vote… It was a direct attack on voting rights, systematically designed to disenfranchise Black voters, older voters, and college kids. It was built on lies, big and small. It was – in the words of Senator Raphael Warnock – Jim Crow in new clothes.

“I vetoed every single one of those bills that came to my desk. And Michiganders saw it too. They stood up for their rights and overwhelmingly passed Proposal 2. Instead of vetoing 39 anti-voting bills, today I am proud to be here with the Detroit NAACP to sign 23 pro-democracy bills. Let’s get it done.”

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