Voter Suppression Bills Pass Out of Committee

Legislation targets low-income, elderly, to curb voter participation
Friday, December 2, 2016

LANSING — Legislation that will make it more difficult for the elderly and those in low-income households to vote passed out of the House Elections Committee today, and is now headed to the House floor. House Bills 6066-6068 were introduced two days ago by committee chair, state Representative Lisa Lyons (R-Alto), and would institute a photo ID requirement at voting booths across the state.

“Voting is a fundamental right, and these bills blatantly target vulnerable communities as a means of stripping that right away,” said Rep. Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline), the Elections Committee Democratic vice chairwoman. “This requirement is redundant – these voters have already been registered using a photo ID, and this is an unreasonable restriction on our voting rights. Studies have repeatedly shown that no credible threat of voter fraud exists in the United States, so to claim that these bills would increase election integrity is simply a smokescreen. This legislation will silence the voices of those who would have the most difficulty maintaining photo IDs.”

While the legislation would allow for a strict provisional ballot verification if a person does not have ID, ultimately those without approved photographic proof of identity would be effectively barred from casting their vote at the booth. This is particularly problematic for those who face significant barriers to obtaining photo ID, including low-income families, the elderly, those in communities of color and the disabled. While the package waives the cost of the ID itself, it fails to address other significant obstacles, including additional transportation costs, increased wait times for documentation filing, and the cost of acquiring underlying documents, like birth certificates.

 “We faced this same issue last year, when straight-ticket voting was introduced and passed,” said state Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor). “And that bill was driven by the same purpose — one that has been acknowledged and confirmed by our federal court system, who deemed it unconstitutional — to suppress the votes of those they disagree with. If you’re poor, you work long hours, you're disabled, or your birth records are hard to obtain, getting a state ID can be costly and time consuming. We simply cannot erect financial barriers to voting. It's unconstitutional."

In order to lessen this potential strain, Democratic committee members proposed nine amendments that would allow for a variety of exemptions and substitutions, including the ability to use a temporary license, to allow disabled individuals to vote a regular ballot, and to allow a concealed pistol license to act as state-approved ID. Only one amendment, to lift restrictions on Native American IDs, was approved.

“These bills do nothing to fix real problems, and instead serve as a distraction from actual voting issues we have in our state,” said state Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo). “For many, voting is the only way they feel empowered and able to participate in the democratic process. We cannot afford to disenfranchise entire groups of people whose voices are so desperately needed.”