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Bill would penalize Michigan election inspectors who falsify party affiliation

Posted at 2:34 PM, Sep 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-28 17:21:27-04

JACKSON, Mich. — State Representative Julie Alexander has introduced a bill that would require election inspectors to attest under penalty of perjury that their application, including identification of the party to which the applicant belongs, is “true, complete and accurate.”

The Jackson Republican said her goal is to strengthen election transparency and integrity.

People in the Jackson community “want to know that their vote counted," Alexander said. "They want to know that there’s a free and fair election.”

Current law already requires election inspectors to complete an application that lists party affiliation.

“When they fill out an application to become a poll worker, they have to state what party they belong to. We need clarity on that so they understand they are only allowed to select one of the state parties that are allowed here in Michigan and they are clear and concise that they will stand behind that party affiliation,” Alexander said.

American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan Policy Strategist Merissa Kovach says the bill is a solution in search of a problem.

“We’re then putting volunteers poll workers who are on the front lines of our democracy, who are helping on Election Day, in this kind of perilous position of having to attest to what party they belong to in a manner that could be putting their voting records under scrutiny, at best, or put them in a position where they might be perjuring themselves,” Kovach said.

She pointed out that, in Michigan, it's not uncommon to see Democrats voting in Republican primaries and vice versa.

"And that’s the system we have here," she said, "but does that leave your voting record up for scrutiny? Does that call into question whether you’re a real Democrat or Republican? That’s a concern that we see that it’s a bit ambiguous.”

H.B. 4876 says it would strengthen election transparency on election day by “ensuring each precinct or absent voter counting board has a publicly reviewable list of the election inspectors assigned to the location, with a certification that each inspector has a complete application on file with the clerk.”

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Current law requires local clerks to be responsible for maintaining the applications of election inspectors and for the applications to be available for review by the public.

The last part of the House bill would require clerks to provide each county political party with a certified list of the political party affiliation for each election inspector.

“When you become a worker working in that election, you are already stating what party you belong to. This just gives the confirmation that you’re taking it even more serious,” Alexander said. “We have heard of some incidences where that portion of the application was not completed this that is not the right thing for a fair and free election.”

The ACLU believes there needs to be a different approach for balance.

“We advocate for a more holistic approach where clerks should be encouraged to proactively reach out to the parties," Kovach said. "They’re recruiting naturally from one party more than the other and need to balance that out. They should go to the parties to recruit more volunteers or the party should take a month themselves to really actively recruit volunteers to sign up as poll workers, rather than create this new legal landscape where poll workers who want to volunteer on election day are putting themselves in an odd position."

She believes bills like this will become more commonplace in Michigan.

“That’s the pattern that we’ve seen this particular legislative session that there’s been a deluge of voter suppression laws,” Kovach said. “That don’t make our elections necessarily more secure, makes them less accessible to voters, makes it harder to administer the elections. Unfortunately, that’s the theme that we’re seeing and I wouldn’t anticipate it to stop.”

H.B. 4876 has passed the elections and ethics committee and is now on the House floor.

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