Michigan prisoners will be registered to vote upon release under newly signed bill

People leaving Michigan prisons will be automatically registered to vote thanks to a new bill signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday.

When incarcerated, those convicted of a felony cannot vote, but they regain that right when released. House Bill 4983 aims to make sure they are aware they can now vote by expanding existing laws.

Michigan currently automatically registers all qualified voters who submit applications or change of address applications for driver’s licenses and IDs to the Secretary of State.

"Research demonstrates that taking away peoples’ right to vote due to their involvement with the criminal legal system impedes formerly incarcerated people’s ability to reintegrate into their communities," said Nicole Porter, the senior director of advocacy for The Sentencing Project. "Expanding voting rights can be linked to a reduced likelihood that an individual will commit another crime. While there is more work to be done, this bill is a significant step in the right direction."

Under the new law, the SOS and Department of Corrections will be required to coordinate to make sure people leaving prison are registered to vote if eligible. They will have the option to decline voter registration when released. 

"Automatic voter registration (AVR) is key to empowering individuals who have had their fundamental rights unjustly stripped away by the government," said Percy Glover, of Michigan’s F.A.I.R. Voting Alliance. "Voting is a constitutional right and is not lost for Michiganders who have not been sentenced and reside in a jail and is immediately re-established for persons released from prison. The freedom to vote must be guaranteed for a fair and true democracy."

This change goes into effect on June 30, 2025.

"I would not have turned this legislation in if I was a student in school, as a school project, it’s got so many problems with it," said State Senator Ruth Johnson (R-24 District). "The intent of the bills was good but – just went too far."

Johnson is concerned that the bill does not provide protection for poll challengers.

"They need to exercise their rights to speak up, and if they see something inappropriate going on, they did not protect them at all," she added.

The package of voting bills signed by Whitmer also includes a ban on deepfakes and artificial intelligence in campaign advertisements. 

"I understand the concerns about artificial intelligence and the so-called deep fake videos and audio that people may try to use to impact their elections, and I’m open to talking about this and seeing what protections we can do, but the bills (passed by the governor) were so rushed," Johnson said. "That’s when you get unintended consequences. We didn't get time in committee to look at them. …I considered it sloppy work because there was a lot of holes we didn’t fill in."

Fox 2 reached out to Whitmer's office for comment and received the following, in part:

'By banning deepfakes and Al in campaign advertisements, criminalizing violence towards election workers, and allowing souls to get to the polls, we are making sure every Michigander's vote is cast and counted." 

Johnson anticipates that there will likely be lawsuits due to the bill.