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Governor Whitmer vetoes qualified voter file bills

Gretchen Whitmer
Ford School of Public Policy
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

The bills would have required election workers to mail out notices to a few hundred voters with an unknown birthdate listed in the state’s qualified voter file and to over 300,000 estimated people who hadn’t voted since 2000.

The bills came after a 2019 state audit found a need for better procedures over the state's qualified voter file.

Michigan Secretary of State spokesperson Tracy Wimmer said the agency worked with lawmakers on earlier versions.

“Legislative leaders then took them behind closed doors and rewrote them in ways that would burden clerks and voters and ultimately prevent those bills from accomplishing their original purpose. So, because of those feelings, we ended up opposing them,” Wimmer said.

Among the issues the Michigan Department of State (MDOS) had that caused it to oppose the legislation was a change in how the mailers went out.

“Post cards would have needed to be returned to local clerks and not our department which would have required us to develop roughly 15-hundred different mailers with individualized return addresses for every clerk. And that ultimately would have cost more time and more taxpayer dollars as well as increasing the possibility for postal and printing errors,” Wimmer said.

In her veto letter to the Michigan Legislature, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer seemed to take a similar stance. She outlined election related reforms she would support, like expanding military voting access and creating a permanent absentee voter list.

House Bills 4127 and 4128, in contrast, do not advance the goal of improving Michigan elections. Instead, they would burden clerks and voters while increasing costs to Michigan residents,” Whitmer wrote.

Republican lawmakers are criticizing the move as political.

State Rep. Matt Hall (R-Marshall) co-sponsored the legislation. He said the bills would've addressed items listed in the audit. For example, the Office of the Auditor General found over 200 voters were listed as being over 122 years old, older than the record for the longest living person.

“It’s pretty common sense. You get a mailer. If you’re one of these people that’s over 122 years old on the voter rolls, you would get a mailer, you could respond to that mailer within two election cycles, and you’re fine,” Hall said.

In the report, the Bureau of Elections noted it’s more likely false birthdays were due to a practice of filling in an impossible date in the birthdate field when information is missing. That’s since the field can’t be blank in the qualified voter file.

The final versions of the bills would have required people receiving notices about missing information to attach documented proof of their age.

“Knowing the birthdate with evidence makes a lot of sense. It’s a commonsense solution and it will help restore confidence in our voter rolls across the state,” Hall said.

MDOS maintains it has been doing its own work to keep the voter registration list up to date. But Wimmer said the department would still be willing to sit back down with lawmakers and hash out new policy proposals.

However, Hall remains skeptical.

“I don’t think there’s any middle ground here. I really don’t think the Democrats are serious,” Hall said. “It’s become too political for them and it’s unfortunate.”

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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