A top Michigan Democrat on Thursday called on the US Senate to pass the sweeping federal elections bill advanced last month by House Democrats to counter efforts by Republicans in his state and elsewhere to restrict access to voting.
Michigan is among the battleground states that were decisive in sealing President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory where the Republican-led legislature is moving ahead with changes designed to make it harder to vote, citing former President Donald Trump’s false claims of voter fraud.
“They need less people to vote. We want more people to vote. That is what this is all about,” said Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist.
He added that the HR 1 bill is the best way to shield voters across the country from similar efforts.
“The federal legislation is certainly an important tool in the toolbox because it will, I think, set up protections for voters across the board,” Gilchrist said.
Known as the “For the People Act,” the bill — which addresses voting rights, campaign finance and ethics rules — could be stuck in the Senate unless Democrats move to eliminate the 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass it with a simple majority.
In Michigan, Republicans who control the state legislature have introduced 39 voting bills, most of which would impose new restrictions.
The state GOP chairman said last week that Republicans will sidestep Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s all-but-certain veto by using a quirk of Michigan law that allows the legislature to enact a measure without the governor’s signature by gathering 340,000 signatures.
Gilchrist urged voters not to sign a Republican petition, and said there would be legal battles if the GOP does seek to enact new voting restrictions.
He added that Republicans’ efforts to restrict voting access are an affront to voters who in 2018 approved by a 2-to-1 majority an amendment to the state constitution that guarantees mail-in ballot access to everyone in the state and mandates same-day registration.
“I think it is very disappointing and disheartening that rather than trying to do the work to earn the support of people across Michigan, a majority of Michiganders, to be able to pass laws that will make elections more accessible to people, there’s just no even attempt to hide the fact that they want to take this really short path, this minority policy-making path, to undermine the will of the voters,” Gilchrist said.
Disproportionate impact on Black voters
Gilchrist and other Democrats have characterized Republicans’ actions as racist. Experts have said the restrictive voting measures GOP lawmakers are advancing across the nation disproportionately affect minority communities, and Gilchrist said the Republican proposals would be especially punitive in cities like Detroit and Flint, with large Black populations.
“When we saw the attempt to undermine the integrity of the results in Michigan, we saw very targeted attempts to really question and challenge what happened in the city of Detroit, the biggest city with the most voters in our state,” he said. “I think it’s also clear that you know, Republicans in Michigan have been working for a long time to try to limit access to voting for Black voters in Michigan, many of whom live in the city of Detroit like I do.”
Republicans responded to Gilchrist’s comments by accusing him of “coarsening the debate over voting reform with reckless claims of racism.”
“An overwhelming majority of Americans — and Black Americans — favor voter ID to ensure the security of our elections,” said Ted Goodman, communications director for the Michigan Republican Party. “Even the Democrat Party requires ID to vote in their state party conventions.”
Escalating partisan divisions
The Michigan Republican moves are the latest escalation in a years-long and increasingly ugly effort to undercut Whitmer and two other Democratic women who are statewide office-holders: Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel, all of whom are up for reelection next year.
In a speech last week, Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser — who is driving the plan to implement new voting restrictions in time for the 2022 election — called Whitmer, Benson and Nessel “three witches” and said Republicans must ensure “they are ready for burning at the stake.”
Gilchrist called on Michigan voters to reject those who tried to undermine the democratic system.
“We are all standing tall together to combat, to beat that, to eliminate voter suppression and more importantly to remove from office, remove from power, the people who are so afraid of voters that rather than seek to connect with them to earn their support, they would rather cut them off from the democratic process,” he said.
He was joined by Tiffany Muller, the president of the progressive advocacy group End Citizens United, who also called for passage of HR 1.
“This all underscores the urgent need to pass the For the People Act and pass it now,” Muller said. “These voter suppression attempts in Michigan and across the country must be stopped, and our best chance is with the For the People Act.”