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Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Vote? The Michigan GOP.

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Judging from the number of bills Michigan GOP members pushed through the state Senate on Feb. 14, 2012, one could be led to believe that voter fraud in Michigan is a problem of epidemic proportions. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

In a 2004 federal court ruling, Judge David Lawson concluded that there was no evidence of voter fraud in Michigan:

Preventing election fraud and preserving the 'purity of the ballot box' certainly is a legitimate state interest. However, Michigan enjoys an election history that is relatively fraud-free. In 1997, Michigan's attorney general stated that 'as the chief law enforcement official of the State of Michigan, I am not aware of any substantial voter fraud in Michigan's elections. I have not received complaints regarding voter fraud. Moreover, the state's chief elections official, Secretary of State Candice Miller, confirmed the fact that Michigan does not have a voter fraud problem when she stated: 'We have no real evidence of voter fraud in Michigan. Michigan has historically had very clean elections.'

In 2010, the now defunct Michigan Messenger contacted county and state election officials and found none who could recall even a single incident of actual voter fraud in the state of Michigan. That includes elections officials in Oakland County, where Ruth Johnson was the clerk before being elected secretary of state. The spokesperson for the office she currently holds told the Messenger, "If you're talking about actual in-person voting at the polls as opposed to bad registration cards, I'd have to say no. I'm happy to say we're a very clean state."

From Roll Call. Used with permission.

Despite these facts, former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land had a policy of automatically removing voters who get licenses elsewhere. This practice was ended under a settlement in federal court in 2010. Voting rights groups claimed Land's removal program hit students and minority and low income communities particularly hard. Opponents successfully argued that because students often have driver's licenses from other states, and students and poor people tend to move more, making it more difficult to reach them by mail, the automatic removal was unfairly targeting those groups.

Now, the Michigan GOP is at it again, undermining voting rights under the guise of addressing voter fraud. A fraud problem that is simply nonexistent. The Michigan Senate on Feb. 14 passed 11 GOP election reform bills they say would prevent fraud. Critics claim the legislation does little but make voting more difficult for elderly and low-income voters.

According to U.S. Census data, 34.5 percent of Detroit residents live below the poverty line, some 247,680 individuals. In the city, 11.5 percent of residents are aged 65 or older, another 81,854 individuals. In 2010, Detroit residents voted overwhelmingly Democratic. Of the 176,700 registered voters who went to the polls, 97.4 percent of them voted Democratic. Republican Rick Snyder managed to capture only 5.33 percent of the vote.

The bills are SB 0750, SB 0751, SB 0752, SB 0753, SB 0754, SB 0803, SB 0823, SB 0824, SB 0825, HB 5085 and HB 5086.

SB 0751 and SB 0754 require a photo ID for requesting an absentee ballot and when registering to vote with third-party groups. They are backed by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and opposed by several groups, including AARP Michigan and the League of Women Voters.

Jacqueline Morrison is the state director of AARP Michigan. She explained her group's opposition: "Nearly one in five people age 65 or older don't have photo ID. People who have been voting all of their adult life will face this hurdle if the legislation passes."

The national average for absentee voting in general elections is 14 percent. In Detroit over 30 percent of those who voted in the 2010 November general election did so by absentee ballot.

Ann Arbor Senator Rebekah Warren offered up a pair of amendments on SB 0751. Both failed on party-line votes. First, Warren tried to remove the voter ID requirement as well as language that a ballot completed without an ID would have to be labeled a challenge ballot. Warren also lost an amendment on a 12-26 vote that would get rid of restrictions on third-party voter registration drives.

Ann Arbor's Democratic Senator called the ID requirement "onerous" and a "hurdle to democracy."

On SB 0823, Warren failed to win an amendment that would change the 2000 law that voters must have the same address on their driver license and voter ID. That's made it harder for college students to vote. Warren said there's now technology to allow two addresses, but she couldn't convince the majority of her colleagues in the Senate to go along with the proposed change.

Republican State Senator Dave Robertson of Gland Blanc argued that, "The logic behind this is very clear: Voters should have only one legal address for voting purposes."

Two bills that passed on party-line votes struck at the political power of Michigan unions. HB 5085 and HB 5086 bar public employers from automatically withdrawing donations to political action committees (PACs) from their employees' paychecks.

Republican Representative Mike Shirkey of Clark Lake, sponsored HB 5085. He told Capitol Confidential in December 2011 that "the legislation is part of the ongoing effort to prevent government from mixing with partisan political activity."

"Government assets should not be used to provide services for political purposes," Shirkey said. "These are two more bills on a long list that would separate government from this sort of involvement."

House Redistricting and Elections Committee Chair Republican Pete Lund told Capitol Confidential: "We think this is good policy," and "the state should not be doing the collecting when people want to pay into PACs."

Passage of the anti-union bills comes after the state Supreme Court handed down conflicting rulings regarding PAC deductions from school employee paychecks.

According to reporting from Capitol Confidential:

In late December 2010, just days before the end of some of the justices' terms, the state Supreme Court ruled that a school district could administer a payroll deduction system for purposes of remitting employee contributions to MEAPAC. Part of the argument for this ruling was that schools and the union could agree to the deductions as part of their collective bargaining agreements.

The case is Michigan Educ. Ass'n v. Secretary of State, No. 137451.

Six months later this ruling was reversed. The current Supreme Court, which had been seated in January after undergoing changes in the 2010 election, granted a motion for a rehearing in the case. On June 30, the high court, in a 4-3 decision, ruled that deductions for union PACs are a violation of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.

The court's majority concluded that administrating a payroll deduction that sends contributions to a PAC constitutes a "contribution," under the state's campaign laws.

Explaining, in part, the court said such deductions are illegal: 'because public resources are being used to advance the political objectives of the committee" and are to be considered an expenditure "because public services and facilities in assistance of these same political objectives are being provided.'

Both bills passed on party-line 26-12 votes with immediate effect and head to the governor.

Michigan Education Association officials said that the union is reviewing the legislation. Between 2004-2011 the MEA PAC spent $4.275 million dollars in political races, or a little over $600,000 per year. Of that amount 72.9 percent of it went to Democratic candidates, including $34,000 to Democrat Virg Bernero's failed campaign for governor.

In 2010, Michigan resident Dick DeVos gave $886,550 to candidate campaigns, 99.67 percent of whom were Republican.