As Black voters face the greatest assault on voting rights since Jim Crow, Michigan has an opportunity in 2023 to join the growing list of states moving forward to protect the freedom to vote.
State lawmakers can do so by passing the Michigan Voting Rights Act (MIVRA or Senate Bills 401, 402, 403, and 404.) This transformative legislative package builds upon the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 and wide-ranging protections recently passed in New York and Connecticut, as well as previous efforts in California, Washington, Oregon, and Virginia. If passed in 2023, the MIVRA will immediately become one of the most comprehensive state-level voting rights acts in the country.
The Legislature is considering the law now — just in time for Michigan to lead as other states move backward and Congress struggles to move forward on voting rights.
Since 2021, at least 42 restrictive voting laws have been passed in 21 states. Dozens of states are considering additional anti-voter legislation this year. As states build barriers to the ballot box, Congress has once again failed to pass legislation to restore key protections and enforcement mechanisms of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Now, we need states to lead by example to protect our right to vote.
There are still discriminatory barriers to equal participation in Michigan’s democracy for voters of color and people whose first language is not English, particularly at the local level.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder ruling, certain Michigan local governments were covered by preclearance under the federal Voting Rights Act based on evidence of historical racial discrimination in voting. Michigan voters of color still face severe racial disparities in voter registration and turnout. In 2020, 68% of eligible white voters cast their ballots, compared to only 64% of eligible Black voters, 55% of eligible Latino voters, and 45% of eligible Asian voters.
Given Michigan’s highly decentralized system of election administration, the threats to the right to vote are especially severe at the local level. Conditions that can foster voting discrimination — such as unfairly drawn districts that weaken Black and Brown voting power, inaccessible polling locations, and insufficient language assistance for voters who don’t speak English — endure throughout Michigan. Many of Michigan’s local governments use at-large election structures or district maps, some of which may impair the ability of voters of color to elect candidates of their choice or influence the outcome of elections. Despite Arabic being the third most common language spoken in Michigan, no federal or state law requires voters who speak Arabic and not English to receive voting materials in the language that would facilitate their democratic participation.
In recent years, voters of color in Michigan have continued to be targeted. The Michigan Secretary of State recently issued an analysis of 39 bills introduced by Michigan state legislators in 2021 that “restrict citizens’ voting rights, harm election administration, and demonstrate a lack of knowledge of existing election procedure and law.” According to a 2021 report by the ACLU of Michigan, these restrictions, including in particular proposed voter ID requirements, would have prevented thousands of Michiganders from casting ballots and would have disproportionately harmed Black and Brown voters. And in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, former President Trump and his 2020 Presidential campaign sought to delegitimize the election and disenfranchise Black voters in Michigan by pressuring Michigan state and local officials to refuse to certify election results and seeking to compel officials not to count votes from Wayne County, Michigan, where Detroit is the county seat. This effort would have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters including those in Detroit, which is nearly 80% Black.
2020 saw a dramatic increase in attempts to suppress the vote of Black, Latinx, and other minority-community voters. Democracy Defended captures and analyzes LDF’s work during the 2020 election season, including our Prepared to Vote and Voting Rights Defender initiatives. It provides documentation of barriers faced by Black voters in PTV/VRD focus states and solutions for policy makers, election administrators, and community members to implement to ensure fair access to the vote in future elections.