There was understandable cheering this last week when Governor Snyder vetoed two of the bills in the seven bill voter reform pacakage. Some of the more noxious forms of voter suppression (check this box if you are really a citizen) were taken off the table is good news. But other measures would take away much of these gains. “Streamlining” was how MLive reported it. The Secretary of State called it SAFE, but for voters in poor neighborhoods, it was anything but.
The principle piece of mischief in the bill (SB 751) is the mechanism for cleaning up the inactive files. There’s a sensible reason, if you’ve moved out of district you shouldn’t be enrolled on the poll book. Fair enough. As the law reads as passed, the Secretary of State sends out a card seeing if a person is at the address. If they don’t get it or don’t return the card within 30 days of the election, the person is put in the challenged roll; if that person doesn’tt vote that November, they are removed from the roll entirely — deregistered. Because obviously, they’ve left.
Even if they still live in the neighborhood.
As a matter of practical politics, the SoS sends out the cards for the mid-term (gubernatorial) election, nobody’s home, and voila! the voter is removed from the poll book for the upcoming national election.
This seemingly neutral plan is functionally a direct attack on poor voters who often change residence, even if in a neighborhood. Add to it, that the poor (and many others) do not bother to vote in the mid-term election, and one has the result where a person may think they’re registered and come November in a presidential year find that they are not. Of course, this can be addressed with strong voter registration drives, and here again the package of bills puts the barriers in place to make these drives more cumbersome and so less effective.
But wait there’s more.
The fundamental mischief is not in the process outlined above, but in what lists are used to determine who should get this “drop cards.” The law reads
Sec. 509aa. (1) A clerk may use change of address information supplied by the United States postal service or other reliable information received by the clerk
Two observations merit attention. First this is information “received by the clerk,” that is, provided to the clerk by third parties. Who may present this information is left unclear. Second, there is the the question of what constitutes “other reliable information.” This is no where specified in the bill. As was seen two years ago in Macomb County, such information could be something as vague as foreclosure notices. Importantly, “other reliable information” is also likely to be filled with a number of false positives.
The second piece of mischief is with one word, “shall.”
(2) Upon receipt of reliable information that a registered voter has moved his or her residence within the city or township, the clerk shall send by forwardable mail all of the following to the voter:
That shall obligates the clerk to act. In effect this makes the office of the clerk a tool for any third party group. Third party groups could include political parties obviously, business groups, even one supposes, PACs. Just so long as they have “reliable information,” it’s kosher.
In short, what we have here, is one of those classic ALEC-inspired measures to keep marginal voters away from the polls. It’s not a measure designed to help Gov Snyder (though it can take effect this election), it’s far more likely target is the presidential contest of 2016. Weirdly, in this very aggressiveness we can see the conclusion of conservatives that President Obama is or was considered likely to win.