Whitmer and voting rights supporters

Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed voting rights bills on November 30, 2023.

(Photo: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer/X)

Voting Rights Defenders Applaud Michigan Dems for Key Reforms

"Today is a good day for democracy in Michigan because more people will have a voice at the polls, in how our state is governed, and how our tax dollars are spent," said one campaigner.

On the heels of approving a clean energy package to combat the climate emergency, Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday signed a series of bills to tackle another urgent issue: voting rights.

"In Michigan, we're proving through our actions that we stand for fundamental American values of freedom and democracy," Whitmer said on social media. "Let's keep working to protect our democracy and ensure our elections are free, fair, and safe."

The governor held a signing ceremony at the NAACP building in Detroit, where she was joined by local leaders, voting rights advocates, and Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who said that "we are here today to protect the people who protect democracy."

The package includes legislation to create criminal penalties for intimidating an election official or preventing them from performing their duties; allow 16-year-olds to preregister to vote when they turn 18; and expand Michigan's automatic voter registration (AVR) process, according toMichigan Advance, which published a roundup of the bills.

"The job of election officials has increasingly become politicized. It's critical that we step up to protect their safety and their ability to do their jobs," asserted state Rep. Kara Hope (D-74), who led some of the bills. "These basic safeguards are critical to addressing the threats to our democracy as we head into 2024."

Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen's Democracy Campaign, said that "we applaud Michigan for prioritizing protecting election officials, and we're proud to support Rep. Hope and Secretary of State Benson in their efforts to address this threat to Michigan elections. We hope more states follow suit to protect these essential workers of American democracy."

As part of the AVR expansion, Michigan's secretary of state will now be required to coordinate with the state Department of Corrections to register people to vote when they are released from prison—a first for the country, according to Common Cause.

"Today is a good day for democracy in Michigan because more people will have a voice at the polls, in how our state is governed, and how our tax dollars are spent," said Common Cause Michigan executive director Quentin Turner. "Voting rights are under attack in many parts of our country, but today Michigan takes a step forward to expand access to the ballot. The right to vote is a cornerstone of our democracy, and our democracy is stronger when more of us [are] able to cast a ballot."

The National Voting in Prison Coalition—founded by Common Cause and allied groups—plans to champion similar bills during other states' 2024 legislative sessions. Common Cause justice and democracy manager Keshia Morris Desir stressed Thursday that "federal and local laws must allow more voices to participate, be heard, and ultimately be represented."

Whitmer also signed legislation to "regulate political ads that use artificial intelligence and tighten the election certification process that former President Donald Trump tried to disrupt following his 2020 loss," reported Bridge Michigan.

State Rep. Penelope Tsernoglou (D-75), who chairs the Michigan House Elections Committee, declared that "Michigan has sent a strong message that it rejects any attempts to deceive voters through the use of artificial intelligence."

Public Citizen said that Michigan is the fifth state to regulate artificial intelligence in election communications, and the legislation effectively bans "deepfakes," which are AI-generated images, audio, or video of people that appear real.

"Thank you Michigan for showing that we don't have to stand helplessly aside as political deepfakes threaten to destroy voters' ability to distinguish authentic content from fraudulent audio, video, and pictures," said Public Citizen president Robert Weissman. "Michigan's requirement that political deepfakes be labeled is an example for the rest of the nation—one we expect states across the country to follow."

As Bridge Michigan detailed:

The new law governing election certification aligns Michigan with the federal Electoral Count Reform Act, which was introduced in Congress with a handful of GOP 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.

Biden is seeking reelection next year and could face Trump—despite the Republican's various criminal cases and arguments that he is constitutionally disqualified from holding office again after inciting the January 6, 2021 insurrection.

A year into Biden's presidency, Democratic right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.)—who switched from Democrat to Independent last December—worked with Republicans in Congress to block a federal voting rights and election reform megabill that included the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Democrats have reintroduced both of those bills this year, but they are highly unlikely to pass the split Senate or GOP-controlled House.

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