News Story

Bill Closing Possible Loophole In Photo ID Voting Law May Be On Fast Track

August sting caught Michigan poll workers giving ballots to impostors of notable people

The Michigan House Election Committee chaired by Rep. Lisa Lyons, R-Alto, advanced a last-minute bill Thursday that she says will strengthen ballot security but opponents claim will suppress voting.

Lyons introduced the bill just two days earlier to revise the current system for individuals voting without a photo ID. It is unusual for legislators to bring new bills up for consideration with just weeks remaining in the session.

Currently, a person who wishes to vote in Michigan without presenting photo identification must sign an affidavit of identity. One out of every 266 Michigan voters signed an affidavit this year. According to the Secretary of State, of the 4,874,619 ballots cast statewide during the Nov. 8, election, 18,339 came from individuals who signed an affidavit.

Lyons believes there is a loophole in this system: There is no systematic follow-up to the affidavits, and they are rarely challenged on a case-by-case basis.

If Lyons’ bill is passed, a person without a picture ID could still vote by signing an affidavit, though on a provisional ballot. That is, the vote would only be counted if, within 10 days, the voter presented a picture ID to the local election clerk. The voter could, alternately, give evidence that presenting a picture ID would be impossible due to poverty or religious objections to being photographed.

Two companion bills would let indigent voters get birth certificates and state-issued ID cards free of charge. They also tell the Secretary of State to provide a non-photographic ID for voting purposes when a person cannot provide proper documentation.

In August, activist and videographer James O’Keefe and his organization Project Veritas made news by releasing a series of videos taken at polling places. O’Keefe’s associates tested Michigan ballot security by telling poll workers they were public figures such as Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the rapper Eminem (aka Marshall Mathers), local news personalities and politicians. In all but one of the sting videos, the associates were offered a ballot in the famous person’s name, though all of them returned their ballots without actually voting.

“The intent of this legislation is to help ensure people have the proper documentation to prove their identity to ensure they can cast their ballot and have that vote,” Lyons said Wednesday.

Critics of the bill questioned how people without birth certificates could still vote under the legislation, particularly immigrants who weren’t granted birth certificates in their country of origin.

Merissa Kovach, a policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union, said to the committee, “The practical effect of these bills, we believe, will be to disenfranchise the vast majority of voters who simply don’t have ID or show up to the election without it.”

On the other side, Deb O’Hagan of West Bloomfield testified Thursday that under current law, investigating an affidavit of identity requires a court order.

“We’re relying on their word signing the affidavit that they are who they say they are,” she said. Affidavits “can only be pulled out through a court order, so there’s no further study of the signature on the affidavits.”

Eric Doster, a former lawyer for the Michigan Republican Party, called the current voter ID laws illusory.

“Project Veritas demonstrated that anyone can go in and sign an affidavit without consequences,” he said.