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House elections committee considers election security bills

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Michigan legislation to ban guns from coming within 100 feet of polling locations and ballot counting centers got a hearing Tuesday before the state House Elections Committee.

RepresentativeStephanie Young (D-Detroit) sponsors a bill in the package. She said her bill is for election workers who felt threatened during recent election cycles.

“I believe that it is our job as legislators to do something about making certain people are safe and feel safe,” Young said during Tuesday’s meeting.

It’s a sentiment some who spoke in opposition to the bill shared as well.

That included Brady Schickinger of the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners. He said the bills should make an exception for licensed concealed carry.

“We agree with the general intent of the bill. Everyone should feel safe while voting, but we can protect polling sites without a conflict with responsible gun ownership.” Schickinger said.

Another pair of bills in the legislation would make it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison to intimidate or keep an election official from doing their job.

Over the course of the over an hour-long meeting, several speakers shared stories of elections workers who felt threatened by individuals showing up at their workplaces and homes in the time around the 2020 presidential election.

Among them was Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, who talked about the several harassing text messages and phone calls she received.

She told the committee the worst moment was when a man once showed up in her neighborhood and said she would “pay dearly for her actions in this election.”

“Mind you, he was approaching me in a threatening manner, coming closer and closer and my only recourse was ‘I have COVID and I’ll spit on you,’” Winfrey said.

She said a neighbor ended up intervening in that situation.

The bill package defines “intimidate” as “to commit harassing conduct that would cause a reasonable individual to feel terrorized, frightened, threatened, harassed, or molested and that actually causes the individual to feel terrorized, frightened, threatened, harassed, or molested.”

Some opponents of the package, like Cynthia Richardson of the group Pure Integrity for Michigan Elections, argued that’s too broad of a definition.

"We absolutely cannot start making people felons if someone says their feelings were hurt or they feel threatened. This is exactly what House Bill 4129 would allow. Intimidation is already illegal. Courts have ruled on that. But this bill goes too far,” Richardson said.

The legislation has not yet advanced to the full House floor.

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