Trump's Michigan allies are plotting to bypass the governor and impose new voting restrictions
Donald Trump lost Michigan by more than 150,000 votes in the 2020 presidential election. But the state still featured prominently in the false claims of election fraud pushed by Trump and his allies.
Two days after the election, Trump addressed the nation and delivered a litany of inaccurate allegations about vote counting in Michigan. "We were way up in Michigan, won the state, and that got whittled down," Trump said. Without any evidence, Trump accused Michigan poll workers of "duplicating ballots," producing illegal "batches" of votes at 4 AM, and tallying "more votes than you had voters."
On November 19, 2020, Trump "summoned Michigan’s Republican legislative leaders to the White House for an extraordinary meeting" as part of a "GOP push to subvert the democratic process." Trump also filed lawsuits and personally lobbied two Republican officials in Michigan's Wayne County to refuse to certify the results.
While Trump's claims lacked factual support, Trump had plenty of political support from Michigan legislators. On November 16, 2020, 41 Republican members of the Michigan legislature signed a letter to Michigan's Secretary of State demanding "a full, independent audit of the recent election prior to the certification of results" due to "serious allegations...which cannot and should not be ignored." The letter regurgitates a laundry list of Trump's baseless claims including allegations that election officials “counted ineligible ballots; counted the same batches of ballots multiple times; instructed poll workers to backdate absentee ballots; counted late ballots after illicitly pre-dating them; [and] used false information to process ballots.”
On January 4, 2021, 11 Republican members of the Michigan legislature wrote a letter demanding "the United States Congress and federal law enforcement, to the extent of their ability by law, conduct an objective and transparent investigation into credible allegations of misconduct in the 2020 election."
Of course, there were no credible allegations and Trump's effort to overturn the election result failed. But, at Trump's urging, his allies in the Michigan legislature introduced dozens of bills to restrict voting in future elections. Several of these bills were sent to the desk of Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D). But she vetoed them all.
But Trump's allies in Michigan have not given up. Members of the Michigan legislature are now seeking to impose several new restrictions on voting through an obscure process that would not be subject to veto by Whitmer. These members are backed by millions in corporate campaign contributions, including corporations who claim to oppose Republican efforts to restrict voting in Michigan.
How to bypass Whitmer and Michigan voters
To sidestep Whitmer’s opposition to voter restriction laws, conservative activist group Secure MI Vote is proposing a ballot measure to restrict voting. While Michigan already requires an ID to vote, the Secure MI Vote initiative would eliminate the ability of those who can't present an ID to sign an affidavit. The proposal also restricts how absentee ballots can be sent. Under the initiative, election officials will be prohibited from sending absent voter applications or ballots to those who did not request them.
In Michigan, citizens can introduce an initiative on a ballot if they collect a certain threshold of signatures––specifically, at least “8 percent of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election.” For 2022, “340,047 valid signatures are required” before the proposal can appear on the Michigan ballot. But if those signatures are collected, the initiative is not likely to appear on any ballot. The state legislature is able to pass the proposed initiative with a simple majority before the vote occurs. And legislation passed in this fashion is not subject to a veto by the governor.
That is the strategy that Secure MI Vote is pursuing. In the last 58 years, only nine initiatives have become law this way. In March, Michigan GOP Chairman Ron Weiser said that he planned to take the voting restriction bills that did not become law and collect "the signatures necessary for a legislative initiative so it can become law without Gretchen Whitmer's signature.”
Ford and GM back Michigan legislators pushing voter suppression
Of the 11 legislators who signed the letter to Congress in January 2021 asking for an investigation into election fraud, 10 of these legislators have also sponsored new voter suppression bills throughout Michigan. Based on data provided by the MI Defend Black Voters Coalition, Popular Information found that these 10 legislators have received $1,375,585 in corporate donations since 2018.
Twenty-four of the 41 legislators who called for an independent audit into election fraud in November 2020 have gone on to sponsor new voter suppression bills in Michigan. A Popular Information analysis found that these 24 lawmakers have received $2,199,455 in corporate donations since 2018.
Many of the top corporate donors to these legislators have publicly defended voting rights in Michigan and other states. Jim Farley, CEO of Ford, signed a statement in April that opposed “Republican-sponsored election bills that would make it harder to vote.”
“Government must support equitable access to the ballot to ensure that all eligible voters can exercise their rights,” the statement said. “Government must avoid actions that reduce participation in elections – particularly among historically disenfranchised communities, persons with disabilities, older adults, racial minorities and low-income voters.”
A Popular Information analysis found that Ford donated $64,600 since 2018 to 48 Michigan legislators who have sponsored voter suppression bills after the 2020 election, including $12,000 to legislators who signed letters promoting fraud allegations.
Ford declined to say whether it supported the ballot initiative or whether it would continue to contribute to Michigan legislators seeking to restrict voting. But the company sent Popular Information the following statement:
When it comes to voting rights, Ford’s position is clear: We believe that equitable access to voting rights for all people is the bedrock of a democratic society… We continue to urge elected officials across the country to work together in a bipartisan way to protect and enhance the right to vote. Our employee PAC makes bipartisan contributions based on a variety of considerations important to customers, our team and our company…
Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, also signed the letter opposing voter suppression bills in Michigan and other states. Popular Information found that GM has donated $40,100 since 2018 to 34 legislators who both signed the letters promoting fraud allegations and are now pushing voter suppression bills. GM has donated a total of $83,950 since 2018 to 48 lawmakers who sponsored bills that would make it more difficult to vote in Michigan.
When asked about their support, a GM spokesperson pointed to a separate statement that Barra posted in April that “urged state lawmakers across the U.S. to protect and enhance ‘the right for all eligible voters to have their voices included in a fair, free and equitable manner.’” GM did not comment on their donations to Michigan legislators that are backing voter suppression bills.
Last week, the MI Defend Black Voters Coalition, a coalition of activist groups working to stop voter suppression, released a pledge that called on corporations in Michigan to “commit to cut off all forms of financial support to legislators supporting voter suppression.”
“These businesses have made statements supporting Black Lives Matter or opposing voter suppression,” Jennifer Disla, Defend Black Voters Coalition co-chair, told Michigan Advance. “Yet, behind closed doors, those very same corporations are chasing tax breaks and anti-work legislation by contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the elected officials working to suppress the Black vote. Money speaks louder than words.”