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Michigan Business Leaders Wade Into Election Law Debate

Crain’s Detroit Business
April 13, 2021
Chad Livengood

A group of Michigan business leaders has waded into the national debate over voting rights in the face of tighter restrictions signed into law in Georgia and new rules proposed in Michigan by Republican lawmakers.

On Tuesday, 37 CEOs and board chairs of some of Michigan’s largest companies released a joint statement outlining broad principles they believe should be followed as state lawmakers debate changes to election laws.

“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,” the statement reads. “Government has a responsibility to continuously improve and strengthen election administration, because public faith in the security and integrity of our elections is fundamental.”

The list of signatories to the statement includes Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Farley, General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Rocket Mortgage CEO Jay Farner, Ilitch Holdings Inc. CEO Chris Ilitch, Penske Corp. chairman Roger Penske, Siebert Williams Shank & Co. CEO Suzanne Shank, and Mike Manley, head of the North American operations of Stellantis (former Fiat Chrysler Automobiles).

Read the letter and see the rest of the signatories.

The Michigan business leaders did not take a stand against any particular legislation.

But the statement comes amid growing national pressure on corporate leaders to push back on efforts largely led by Republicans in statehouses to put new restrictions on voting in place in the aftermath of the 2020 elections, which were marred by unproven claims by former President Donald Trump of widespread voter fraud.

Nearly 40 bills seeking to overhaul the way elections are administered and restrict voter access to ballots have been recently introduced in the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature.

The Detroit Regional Chamber issued a statement Monday saying some of the bills “are common sense improvements that make an already strong process stronger, including extending early voting opportunities.”

“Others, however, have the impact of unreasonably restricting Michiganders’ ability to exercise their right to vote,” the Chamber said. “Other provisions place undue burdens on already stressed election workers and risk the confidentiality of an individual’s vote.”

The Chamber’s statement did not say which specific bills it opposes. Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah was one of the signatories on the joint statement Tuesday.

“The Detroit Regional Chamber will oppose measures that, on balance, unreasonably impact our members and their employees’ ability to exercise the franchise — especially measures with a disproportionate impact on communities of color and those less affluent — without providing needed integrity and security,” the chamber said.

Michigan Republican Party chairman Ron Weiser, founder of the Ann Arbor-based real estate management firm McKinley Inc., recently said Republicans will launch a campaign to gather signatures for voter-initiated laws to bypass Whitmer.

Democrats have threatened to launch a counter signature-gathering campaign and possibly put the issue on the ballot in 2022.

In 2018, Democrats won the offices of governor, attorney general and secretary of state as voters overwhelmingly approved constitutional amendments allowing for any voter to cast an absentee ballot and making it easier to register to vote.

Some of the bills introduced by Senate Republicans seek to rein in absentee voting by requiring voters to submit a copy of their photo identification in order to obtain an absentee ballot by mail. Senate Bill 285 would let voters without photo ID cast a provisional ballot “that is subject to verification and will not be tabulated on election day,” according to the legislation.

Republicans also want to outlaw Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s unsolicited distribution of absentee ballot applications to every voter, a move she made in 2020 to make it easier to obtain an absentee ballot and not have to go to the polls on Election Day during the coronavirus pandemic. That legislation, Senate Bill 310, is sponsored by Sen. Ruth Johnson, a former secretary of state and Oakland County Republican.

The statement from the 37 Michigan business leaders called for both parties to work together instead of taking separate routes

“Election laws must be developed in a bipartisan fashion to preserve public confidence in our elections and to preserve the values of democracy.

Barra issued a statement Tuesday morning ahead of hearings the state House and Senate are beginning this week on some of the election law bills.

“We are calling on Michigan lawmakers and state legislatures across the nation to ensure that any changes to voting laws result in protecting and enhancing the most precious element of democracy — the right for all eligible voters to have their voices included in a fair, free, and equitable manner,” Barra said. “Anything less falls short of our inclusion and social justice goals.”

View the original article.


Detroit Regional Chamber Statement on Michigan Election Reform Legislation