At first glance, the partisan battle over voting rights in Michigan appears similar to that of many other states: The Republican-led Legislature, spurred by former President Donald J. Trump’s lies about election fraud, has introduced a rash of proposals to restrict voting access, angering Democrats, who are fighting back.
But plenty of twists and turns are looming as Michigan’s State Senate prepares to hold hearings on a package of voting bills beginning Wednesday. Unlike Georgia, Florida and Texas, which have also moved to limit voting access, Michigan has a Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, who said last month she would veto any bill imposing new restrictions. But unlike in other states with divided governments, Michigan’s Constitution offers Republicans a rarely used option for circumventing Ms. Whitmer’s veto.
Last month, the state’s Republican chairman told activists that he aimed to do just that — usher new voting restrictions into law using a voter-driven petition process that would bypass the governor’s veto pen.
In response, Michigan Democrats and voting rights activists are contemplating a competing petition drive, while also scrambling to round up corporate opposition to the bills; they are hoping to avoid a replay of what happened in Georgia, where the state’s leading businesses didn’t weigh in against new voting rules until after they were signed into law.
The maneuvering by both parties has turned Michigan into a test case of how states with divided government will deal with voting laws, and how Republicans in state legislatures are willing to use any administrative tool at their disposal to advance Mr. Trump’s false claims of fraud and pursue measures that could disenfranchise many voters. The proposal puts new restrictions on how election officials can distribute absentee ballots and how voters can cast them, limiting the use of drop boxes, for example…
Michigan is one of just nine states that allow voters to petition lawmakers to take up a piece of legislation; if passed, the law is not subject to a governor’s veto. If the Legislature does not pass the bill within 40 days of receiving it, the measure goes before voters on the next statewide ballot. It is a rarely used procedure: Lawmakers have passed only nine voter-initiated bills since 1963, according to the state Bureau of Elections.
But last month, Ron Weiser, the state’s Republican Party chairman, told supporters in a video reported on by The Detroit News that the state party planned to subsidize a petition drive to cut Ms. Whitmer out of the lawmaking process.
To do so would require 340,047 voter signatures, or 10 percent of the vote in the last governor’s election. Mr. Weiser said that the signatures would be gathered through county committees with party funding. So far, the signature gathering has not begun, nor has the secretary of state’s office received a proposed bill needed to start a petition drive, as required by law.