News Story

Whitmer directs ‘whole of government’ to register Michiganders to vote

Reports on department efforts to register voters are due June 30

Michigan’s plan to employ a “whole-of-government” approach to registering voters will take a major step forward this week.

Reports from the departments and agencies in Michigan’s executive branch are due to the governor’s office Thursday. The subject: what those departments and agencies have done or could do to register voters.

The governor’s office is even encouraging departments to let employees take Election Day off and work the polls. At a minimum, it encourages state offices to give employees an hour off on Election Day to vote.

On May 1, Whitmer issued Executive Directive 2022-4, ordering a “whole-of-government” approach to voter registration. Voter outreach is the purview of the Secretary of State, officially, but Whitmer argued every agency of the state could play a role.

“The state must take a whole-of-government approach to increase access to voter registration services and election related information to prevent any eligible voter from missing out on the opportunity to participate fully in our democracy,” Whitmer wrote.

The memo went out to department directors and heads of autonomous agencies.

The governor expects responses to a four-page questionnaire, which was obtained by Michigan Capitol Confidential.

The questionnaire asks several items of each office or department: How many people does it serve? How many of its staffers work in public-facing roles? How many of the people it serves are Black, or homeless, or can’t read? How many have a criminal record or just got out of prison?

The document asks the departments and agencies to talk about the kinds of interactions it has with the public, and under what circumstances. For instance: If someone changes her address, is that agency notified?

Then, finally, it gets to the meat of the matter: What has the office done to register voters, and what could it do better?

“For each department/agency/organization,” the questionnaire instructs, “please explain whether it would be feasible to offer some or all employees or contractors the opportunity to:

  1. Have one hour during which the person could be excused from work in order to vote;

  2. Spend election day serving as a poll worker, temporary election clerk staff, or election observer rather than performing normal job duties.”

If state departments respond to this obvious nudge, government workers would be able to vote on the clock, even as members of the public squeeze voting into their regular schedule. State employees who want to go the extra mile would be allowed to volunteer, working “as a poll worker, temporary election clerk staff, or election observer.”

The questionnaire ends by asking each agency to report on its fitness to serve as a voter registration agency, and to identify any problems or logistics that prevent its fitness.

Whitmer’s May order offered some context to a little-noticed White House announcement in March. The announcement said that the U.S. Small Business Administration had asked Michigan to designate it as a voter registration agency. The White House notes that this is the first time a federal agency has taken that step in any state.

Apparently the whole-of-government approach means even the federal government will be helping register voters in Michigan.

“Gov. Whitmer is trying to turn the state government into a voter registration and turnout machine,” said Lauren Bowman, spokeswoman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a public interest law firm.

Bowman added: “This is an abuse of power and a waste of government resources and taxpayer dollars. What the governor should be worried about is the over 25,000 deceased registrants on the state’s voter rolls. She should be working with the Secretary of State to clean up the voter rolls, so Michiganders can have trust in their elections."

The Public Interest Legal Foundation has sued Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson for failing to remove 25,000 dead people from the state’s Qualified Voter List. The state has filed a motion to dismiss the suit. The court has not yet ruled in the case.

“Democracy takes work,” Whitmer wrote in her executive directive. “But ensuring free and fair elections with broad participation that reflect the will of the people is well worth the effort.”

Whitmer goes on to say, “Black voters and other voters of color have faced discrimination and numerous obstacles that have burdened their exercise of this fundamental right,” adding that the disabled and people without English proficiency face barriers.

President Joe Biden issued a directive in March 2021, ordering 600 federal agencies to “expand citizens’ opportunities to register to vote and to obtain information about, and participate in, the electoral process.”

Biden gave the agencies 200 days to respond. Some say that a conspiracy is afoot.

“Fully nine months after those plans were due, they are all being hidden from the public,” wrote Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist, “even as evidence is emerging that the election operation is in full swing.” Republican senators have accused congressional Democrats of promoting a federal takeover of elections through legislation.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is filing Freedom of Information Act requests to learn how state departments have responded, and what plans result from the data they’ve submitted.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.