More than six months after Donald Trump lost the 2020 election to President Joe Biden, his supporters across the country continue to believe unfounded conspiracies about his defeat while Republicans in state legislatures push new legislation designed to make it harder to vote and combat fraud.
The latest battleground for those efforts is Michigan, one of the purple states that was center to Mr Trump’s claims of fraud in the presidential race; in particular, his supporters targeted Wayne County, home to Detroit and its 5.5 million inhabitants, 78 per cent of whom are Black.
Republican lawmakers this week filed a pair of bills aimed at establishing voter ID, or a requirement that residents show a government-issued ID when arriving to vote at their precinct.
If passed into, those Michiganders who arrive at a polling place without ID will be required to cast a provisional ballot, and provide the required ID to a city clerk within six days of the election for their vote to be counted.
A second provision of the bills enacts a signature requirement that would require poll workers to compare voters’ signatures to those on file on their registration forms, and issue a provisional ballot if they are not judged to match.
Supporters of the bills, including the state Republican Party, have suggested that the process will not unduly affect legal voters, as the bills are tied to the passage of another state House-passed bill that removes the fees for obtaining a state identification card. Democrats have long argued that such ID requirements will still restrict many from voting due to fees required for the documents necessary to obtain that state-issued ID, such as birth certificates.
In news releases and emails to supporters, Democrats also hammered the signature-matching requirement, which they said in some cases could occur under pressure from partisan election observers.
The slew of bills passed the Michigan state House this week and are headed for the state Senate, where Republicans also have the majority.
Republicans celebrated the House’s passage of the three bills, declaring it a victory against fraud while pointing to polling support for ID requirements.
“79% of Americans support Voter ID – and this week [Michigan Republicans] delivered on their promise to pass this important legislation. Michigan Republicans are ensuring confidence in our electoral system,” the Michigan House GOP caucus tweeted, adding the hashtag: “#RestoringFaithInMIElections.”
Their comments about “restoring faith” in the state’s elections comes, however, after the Michigan state Senate Oversight Committee, in a report issued by its Republican chair, Ed McBroom, denied that there was any reason for voters to doubt the sanctity of the state’s election in the first place.
“This Committee found no evidence of widespread or systematic fraud in Michigan’s prosecution of the 2020 election,” read the GOP-led report, which went on to accuse the state’s election system of “weaknesses” including “inconsistent” poll worker training, as well as a “lack of clarity in the tabulation of ballots.”
“I feel confident to assert the results of the Michigan election are accurately represented by the certified and audited results,” Mr McBroom added in his own statement accompanying the report.
Mr McBroom went on in his statement to add that an Arizona-style “audit” of election results was “not justifiable” given the results his committee uncovered, while adding that he may change his view if the Arizona audit uncovers serious issues in that state or if further information arose about Michigan’s own election in 2020.
Democrats, meanwhile, spent the days following the bills’ passage slamming Republicans for seeking to impose new restrictions on voting after their own report admitted fraud was not a major issue.
“The Senate Oversight Committee delivered a report confirming what we already knew: that widespread fraud did not exist in the 2020 election. Still the GOP is committed to making it harder for Michiganders to vote and it is truly shameful,” said Matt Koleszar, the Democratic vice chair of Michigan’s House Elections and Ethics Committee.
“The GOP’s election strategy for 2022 is very clearly, “If they won’t vote for us, and we can’t draw the House and Senate maps to benefit us, we’ll just stop people from voting,’” he continued.
The state Senate’s Democratic caucus chair, Erika Geiss, added that in her mind it was simple: “There is no other way to spin it, they are determined to disenfranchise voters who do not look, act, or think like them,” she told The Independent.
The bills’ passage through the House comes as the state’s Republican lawmakers have come under the scrutiny of former President Trump himself, who has taken a personal interest in efforts around the country aimed at reviewing the 2020 election results in a vague hope that his defeat could somehow be overturned.
On Thursday, the president issued a statement condemning Mr McBroom’s report, which he argued was an effort to prevent an Arizona-style audit from taking place: “The Senate ‘investigation’ of the election is a cover up and a method of getting out of a forensic audit for the examination of the Presidential contest.”
While an audit is now unlikely to take place in Michigan, the bills’ futures are less clear. They are likely to pass the GOP state Senate in a party-line manner similar to their approval by the Republican-controlled state House, but face an obstacle in the form of Michigan’s Democratic chief executive, Gov Gretchen Whitmer.
A veto by Ms Whitmer would send the bills back to the legislature, where Republicans do not have the votes to override her action. But even that wouldn’t necessarily be the end: If Ms Whitmer vetoes the bills, GOP leaders have signalled plans to use a rarely-used provision in Michigan that allows voters to initiate legislation by submitting signatures equal to eight per cent of the total votes case in the last gubernatorial election, which in this case would be just over 340,000 signatures.
Under Michigan’s state constitution, such legislation would not be subject to a governor’s veto, effectively shutting Democrats out of the process due to the GOP’s two-chamber majority.
The state’s GOP chair said in a video message to supporters in March that the voter initiatives would ensure that Michigan’s elections in 2022 would be “fair,” according to the Detroit News.
“This is how the Michigan Republicans do business,” fired back Lavora Barnes, the state Democratic Party chair, in a statement to the News. “First, they lose. Then they lie. And then they find ways to suppress the vote, because even they know that when people vote, Democrats win.”