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May 22 / Pat Selby

UPDATE: Mich. Voter Suppression Bills Approved by Committee; Headed to House

Voter suppression bills SB 751, 754, and 803—which place new regulatory requirements on community-based voter registration drives and expand the use of photo ID, among other things—were voted out of committee this morning. Before a packed-to-overflowing hearing room, the committee heard about 45 minutes of testimony. The names of people and organizations taking positions on the bills were read into the record and the number in opposition far exceeded those in support.

Several amendments were offered that would have mitigated the negative impact of the bills: sadly, most of those were shot down in series of party line votes. The few amendments that were adopted include a 30-day compliance window for community voter registration organizations; the elimination of the word “fiduciary” from the newly imposed restrictions; and the expansion of training opportunities for community-based voter registration drives through local clerks. However, the majority declined to make voter registration training voluntary; refused to require that the training be made available online; and refused to remove the U.S. citizen check box for military voters overseas. The committee also insisted in leaving in place the bills’ effective date of June 1, 2012.

A very large contingent of observers came from a Detroit group called Good Jobs Now, and two people associated with the group testified against the bills. Late in the session, when amendment after amendment was shot down and the bills were starting to be voted out of committee, a very spontaneous and raucous chant started: “Respect our vote!” The crowd flooded into the hearing room from the overflow room and continued to chant while the committee attempted to finish voting the bills out. A few more agitated participants directed their comments loudly at the committee chair and committee members, saying “You’re killing democracy!” The anger and passion were palpable.

Committee member and Rep. Woodrow Stanley (D-Flint) had the best statement of the day: “Voting is the cornerstone of the electoral process. Every enlightened democracy in the world creates opportunities to participate in this process. They don’t put obstacles in the path.”

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