There has been a lot of attention paid to the 39 Republican Party bills related to voting and elections in response to the huge voter turnout in 2020. Among the most talked about bills are ones that add barriers to voting such as more unreasonable ID requirements, limiting drop box usage, and making it hard to vote by absentee ballot. Michigan Resistance and dozens of other activist groups have been fighting them every week for the past few months. And they’ve received hours of media coverage, local and national.
But two bills that few have heard of could actually be the most dangerous of all to our democracy. Dubbed the “sore loser’ bills by those who understand their true intent, SB296 and SB297 would restructure county boards of canvassers – increasing their size and requiring more partisan votes to certify the election results. (County canvassers are party-appointed administrators who sign off on the vote totals gathered by clerks in their county. Certification is the process of signing off on those totals and sending them on to the state board of canvassers, who are duty-bound to do the same thing.)
The claimed goal of these bills is to deter either party from turning the historically administrative duty of certification into a political circus like we saw in Wayne County in 2020. In reality, these bills give the canvassers more power to block the will of the people and would increase chaos, not reduce it. Who would want to make this happen? Sore losers who don’t like what the vote said.
How do these seemingly innocuous bills do this?
SB 296 expands the size of boards of canvassers based on the population of the county and it requires more partisan support for the certification of the vote. For example, a county with a population of more than 750,000, would have 8 canvassers, instead of the 4 all counties currently have. In order to certify, instead of needing 1 canvasser from each party to approve as under the current law, 2 are now required.
Add more canvassers? Why not? On the surface, it seems like that could only ensure more accurate results. However, certification is an administrative duty. Canvassers are supposed to certify what the county clerks provide. They have no tools or authority to examine the clerks’ processes or dispute their accuracy. That is what audits and recounts are for. But more canvassers = more people for party operatives to persuade to throw a wrench in the process. What purpose could this serve other than to increase the likelihood that certification will not take place?
SB 297 requires a canvasser from each party be present during the entire canvas with no enforcement mechanism to ensure that canvassers actually show up, enabling canvassers to stop or veto a canvass by not attending. Also gives canvassers improper authority to approve or deny county clerk staff selected to assist the canvass.
In 2018, 2 years after Trump won Michigan by a small margin, the Republican party was perfectly satisfied with the provision that “3 members constitute a quorum, but no action becomes effective unless 1 member from each political party concurs in the action.” This amended section was deemed effective on March 28, 2019.
But now, a few months after Trump lost Michigan by a large margin, the Republicans are proposing “at least 1 member from each political party must be present during the entire canvassing of returns.”
So, when the Republicans don’t like who was elected, they could simply sit out the canvassing of the votes. This would delay the certification, and there is nothing in this bill that would penalize them for it.
And in 2018, the Republicans were extremely confident of a county’s clerk’s abilities to employ assistants with this amendment: “The county clerk is the clerk of the board of county canvassers. The county clerk may employ any assistants as are necessary to adequately perform the duties of the board.”
But now that Trump lost Michigan, the Republican party has lost faith in all of the counties’ clerks’ abilities to adequately hire any assistant. Under Bill 297 “The (entire) board of county canvassers must approve the hiring of each assistant the clerk employs before that assistant is hired. An assistant must not be hired unless approved by the (entire) board of county canvassers and 1 member from each political party represented approves the hiring.”
None of this was deemed necessary when Trump won by a small margin in 2016. Only after the 2020 election, when Biden won by a larger margin, does the Republican party need these regulations.
So what can we do?
We can call these GOP members of the Senate Election committee and two moderate GOP Senators (not on the committee) and let them know we have read these bills and SEE their true intent: to make it easier for one party to block the certification of a vote they don’t like.
GOP Senate Elections Committee Members:
Ruth Johnson (Chair) 517-373-1636
Ed McBroom (Majority Vice Chair and author of the bill) (517) 373-7840
Curtis VanderWall 517-373-1725
Not on Committee:
Jim Stamas 517-373-7946
Wayne Schmidt 517-373-2413
Script for Calling Senators:
Hello. I am calling to express my concern that SB296 and 297 could invalidate my vote. By increasing the size of the boards of canvassers, requiring more partisan votes to certify, and requiring canvassers be present during the entire canvass, these bills make it more likely that the losing party will refuse to certify and thereby block the will of the voters. (When calling McBroom, who wrote the bill, just say that you oppose the bill and hope he reconsiders his thinking on this.)