Bills that would clean up Michigan's voter registration rolls meet resistance

Legislation working its way through the Michigan Legislature aims to clean up the state's voter registration rolls.

The measure calls for those who haven't voted since the November 2000 election or who have "placeholder" birthdates in the state's voter rolls to have their registration marked as challenged until they respond to a mailing from the Secretary of State's office.

If someone with a placeholder birth date — because the actual birth date is unknown — doesn't verify their date of birth or participate within two November elections after receiving the notice, their registration would be canceled.

The measure approved by the state House last week now goes to the Senate for consideration. It would also require Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature.

Adam Reames, Michigan Department of State's Legislative policy director, testified in opposition to the legislation during two committee hearings in February. He said about 540 names are in the voter rolls with placeholder birthdays.

Placeholder birthdays are used when clerks have clerical errors in registration records, they are no fault of the voters and therefore those voters shouldn't have to jump through more hoops than anyone else, Reames said.

If those who haven't participated in the past 20 years of elections don't properly return the mailing, their voter registration would be marked as challenged. If they don't participate in elections by the second November general election after receiving notice, their registration would be canceled.

In both cases, the voters must send in the mailing at least 15 days before the next election or provide additional proof of personal information such as birthdate and address in order to be allowed to vote.

About 300,000 people are on voter rolls who haven't voted since before 2000, Reames said. Of the 500 people with placeholder birthdays, 416 are also in that group.

Republicans and Democrats clashed last week over the legislation.

Democrat Rep Kara Hope said it was another attempt from the GOP-led Legislature to feed the conspiracy theory that the election was stolen or fraudulent.

Republican bill sponsor Rep. Matt Hall said the ideas behind the legislation precede the November election and stem from a 2019 report from the state auditor general's office on the Bureau of Elections that found though the bureau's maintenance of the voter rolls was sufficient, it recommends improved control procedures over the file to decrease the risk of ineligible electors voting.

The report said because it's impossible to have a blank birth field in the registration roll, individuals with unknown birth dates are given extreme birth years like 1850 to deliberately indicate that follow-up is needed. At the time of the report, 230 registered electors had a birth date that would indicate an age of older than 122 years old.

Last year, the Secretary of State's office worked across the aisle with legislators to create policies to maintain an accurate registration roll, spokesman Jake Rollow said in a statement. However, those policies weren't brought to a vote.

"These bills, drafted without our input or involvement, do not follow data or best practices or take into consideration the views of experts – and would allow for the removal of eligible voters and make it unnecessarily onerous for the voters to rectify their removal," Rollow said. "We are committed to ensuring the accuracy of the voter file in a responsible, data-driven, and transparent way."

About 177,000 registrations were canceled this month in order to get those who've moved away from the address they registered at off the registration roll, Rollow said.

Other legislation approved by the House would allow precincts to be consolidated during all non-statewide or federal elections.

Another part of the legislation would require the Michigan Secretary of State to make public in odd-numbered years the names of clerks who haven't completed their required training.