Michigan voters will determine whether to allow early in-person voting, private donations for public elections and a slew of other voting changes when considering Proposal 2 on Nov. 8.
Voting “yes” would amend Michigan’s constitution to allow nine days of early in-person voting, add an absentee-ballot box in every city and township and allow clerks to accept outside donations to fund their elections.
Voting “no” would curb the proposed changes and keep current election procedures.
The proposal made it to the ballot after supporters gathered 669,972 signatures. It was promoted by a coalition that includes the ACLU of Michigan, the League of Women Voters of Michigan, All Voting is Local, and Voters Not Politicians.
The bipartisan Board of State Canvassers initially held Proposal 2 off the Nov. 8 ballot, but a divided Michigan Supreme Court ruled the board had to certify it.
Here is what to know about Proposal 2, including what’s true, false, and unknown — and how the measure would change Michigan elections.
What would be different with early voting?
Michigan is one of 27 states now offering “no-excuse” absentee voting. Any voter can cast an absentee ballot up to 40 days before the election since 2018, when Michigan approved a constitutional amendment expanding voting rights.
Since then, the number of absentee ballots shot up to 3.3 million in 2020 from 600,000. About 50 percent of votes in the August primary were absentee.
Proposal 2 would make Michigan join 23 states and the District of Columbia to allow early in-person voting.
Michigan voters would get a week plus two full weekends before the election to vote at designated polling places. Those sites would stay open for eight hours each day through the Sunday before the election.
Proponents of early in-person voting say it makes voting more convenient, increases turnout and diversifies the electorate. They also argue that it allows election workers to correct errors ahead of the crush of Election Day.
Critics argue that early in-person voting may lead people to make ill-informed decisions, increase costs and decrease turnout.
Will this cost more? Who pays?
Proposal 2 requires the state to pay postage costs for all absentee ballots and supply every municipality with a secure absentee ballot drop-box. The state would buy any jurisdiction with 15,000 or more registered voters a drop-box.
If Proposal 2 passes, Michigan would join 19 states and Washington D.C. in requiring the government to cover that cost.
Craig Thiel, a research director at the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council who authored an analysis of the proposal, said about 107 municipalities have more than 15,000 registered voters and would require more than one drop box. Detroit would be eligible for 29 state-paid drop boxes, Grand Rapids 10 and Warren seven.
The nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency, which released an analysis of Proposal 2 this week, estimated the drop boxes would cost the state another $2.1 million, assuming that each box is $3,000. Municipalities would have to spend more than $1 million each to upgrade existing drop boxes to meet state law.
The state would reimburse clerks for covering absentee ballot postage. The House Fiscal Agency estimates the cost for postage on 6 million absentee applications and ballots will be $4.8 million.
Costs for nine days of early voting would fall to local municipalities unless they make an arrangement to share expenses with county clerks, the House Fiscal Agency concluded, but some $16 million in federal funding for elections is left over in state coffers and could offset costs.
Local offices have expressed concerns that staffing could be expensive and time consuming, since many rural clerks are part-time.
The House Fiscal Agency estimated there could be other costs to communities, including elections inspections and tabulators that could increase the bill.
New Jersey allowed nine days of early in-person voting last year. Estimates for implementing the process, which included buying thousands of electronic poll books in every county, were around $80 million, with the state footing most of the bill.
Can billionaires fund elections under Proposal 2?
Text messages from a ballot measure committee called Secure MI Vote are making the rounds, claiming that Proposal 2 “gives billionaires like Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump a right… to donate unlimited money directly to Republican election officials for programs with partisan results.”
Proposal 2 would allow counties, cities and townships to accept and use charitable donations from American billionaires.
The ballot measure states the donations would be subject to public disclosure rules and cannot be from “foreign sources.”
According to Thiel, it’s uncertain what those disclosure rules are, but Michigan election officials have accepted grants funded by billionaires in the past.
In 2020, clerks’ offices nationwide were burning through budgets dealing with an influx of absentee ballots and a slew of pandemic protocols. In Michigan and elsewhere, clerks turned to private funds, securing millions of dollars to buy personal protective equipment and offer hazard pay to workers.
Officials in 465 Michigan cities, townships and counties applied for and received “COVID-19 response” grants from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a Chicago-based nonprofit that distributed funds nationally after receiving $400 million from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The grants spurred debates over the ethics of private funding for public elections, with Republicans arguing that private funding opens the door to special influences meddling in elections, especially if the money goes to communities that overwhelmingly vote one way.
Proposal 2 doesn’t end the state’s voter ID requirement
Another ballot measure committee, Vote No on Proposal 2, sent text messages saying the ballot measure would “eliminate forever having to show an ID to vote.” The text also noted that Michigan residents “overwhelmingly support having to show an ID to vote in elections.”
That claim is partially valid.
According to one poll, about 81 percent of respondents supported laws requiring citizens to show ID to vote. However, the text message is wrong in stating Proposal 2 would abolish state laws requiring voters to have an ID.
Instead, it reinstates that voters without an ID on hand can sign an affidavit attesting to their identity.
Since 2007, state law has required voters to show picture identification or sign an affidavit, a sworn written statement that asserts their identity. If a person doesn’t have a photo ID and refuses to sign an affidavit, they cannot vote and will be referred to the clerk.
If someone does have a picture ID but refuses to show it, they cannot vote until it is shown to an election worker. Proposal 2 would not change this election procedure.
Does Proposal 2 limit the Board of Canvassers’ power?
Not necessarily, said Thiel, the researcher with the Citizens Research Council.
The bipartisan Board of Canvassers’ sole responsibility is to certify ballot measures based on the number of valid signatures they receive.
Proposal 2 would amend the state Constitution to state that “the outcome of every election in this state shall be determined solely by the vote of electors casting ballots in the election.”
Thiel said this ensures that the Board of Canvassers cannot refuse to certify a ballot measure for reasons beyond the number of valid signatures. That was an issue in Michigan in 2020, when Wayne County canvassers almost refused to certify results because of discrepancies in poll books.
Would Proposal 2 let prisoners vote?
No, the proposal would not change the current state laws that bar imprisoned people from voting.
In late September, Michigan residents received mass text messages warning that Proposal 2 would allow “murders, rapists and incarcerated felons” to vote.
While the text is technically accurate in claiming that murderers and rapists would be allowed to vote if Proposal 2 passes, that is only because they are already allowed to vote as long as they are not serving a prison sentence.
Opponents of the proposal air concerns because of its language declaring a “fundamental right to vote, without harassment, interference, or intimidation,” which they believe could nullify a section of the Michigan constitution that allows the “legislature (to) … exclude persons from voting because of mental incompetence or commitment to a jail or penal institution.”
Proposal 2’s supporters argue that the Michigan Supreme Court dismissed that claim when it ordered the Board of Canvassers to place it on the ballot.
Read the ballot language
Here is the text for Proposal 2, which is on the Michigan ballot on Nov. 8.
A proposal to amend the state constitution to add provisions regarding elections. This proposed constitutional amendment would:
- Recognize fundamental right to vote without harassing conduct;
- Require military or overseas ballots be counted if postmarked by election day;
- Provide voter right to verify identity with photo ID or signed statement;
- Provide voter right to single application to vote absentee in all elections;
- Require state-funded absentee-ballot drop boxes, and postage for absentee applications and ballots;
- Provide that only election officials may conduct post-election audits;
- Require nine days of early in-person voting;
- Allow donations to fund elections, which must be disclosed;
- Require canvass boards certify election results based only on the official records of votes cast.
Should this proposal be adopted? [ ] YES [ ] NO