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Michigan Republicans seek automatic removal of inactive voters

People who haven’t voted in six years or have received drivers licenses in other states will be subject to extra scrutiny under a package of Republican election reforms introduced this week.

Sen. Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc) has introduced a bill that would require the Secretary of State to create a new “inactive voter” file of those who haven’t voted in the last six years and would automatically challenge ballots from people on that list if they vote via absentee ballot.

The measure is described as a matter of “ballot security” in an overview provided by the office of Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, who supports the measure.

Robertson’s bill also creates new rules for removing voters who get drivers licenses in other states.

According to the new law, if the Dept. of State learns that a Michigan resident has received a drivers license elsewhere, it will send a notice to that voter asking her to verify that she has not moved out of state. If the voter does not return the letter she will be removed from the voter rolls if she doesn’t vote in the next two general elections.

Former 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 say that this removal program had a particularly detrimental impact on students and minority and low income communities because students often have divers licenses from other states and students and poor people tend to move more, making it more difficult to reach them by mail.

At a press conference announcing the proposed reforms this week Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said they she wants the federal government to help Michigan ensure that no non-citizen can vote.

Johnson has initiated a new policy that requires branch office workers to tell people that only citizens can vote before offering voter registration materials, and although election officials have no evidence of voting by non-citizens, Johnson said that she is concerned that thousands of non-citizens may be on the voter rolls.

Other Republican reforms introduced this week include a law that makes failure to file campaign finance reports a felony if a candidate has more than $20,000 and limits the use of campaign funds for legal defense.

A bill by Rep. Sharon Tyler (R-Niles) would amend the Campaign Finance Act to require quarterly filings by approved ballot question committees that have raised or spent expended at least $500 and requires disclosure of financing for new political parties.

Spokeswoman Gisgie Gendreau said that Johnson wants to use federal Homeland Security, Social Security and immigration databases to help us remove noncitizens from the rolls but that these agencies have not responded to her requests for access to their databases.

Gendreau said that Johnson is working with U.S. Rep. Candice Miller (R-Harrison Township), a former Michigan Secretary of State, on a way to require the federal government to share citizenship status information. But in a 2004 federal court ruling, Judge David Lawson cited Miller and other officials to show 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.”

Last year, the 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.”

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