Michigan election officials reject claims of illegally barring voters

Charlie Cain // Published July 11, 2008 in Detroit News
Michigan elections officials Thursday rejected claims by a national voting rights group that the state is violating state and federal law by denying certain individuals the right to vote.

"We believe we are fully in compliance with Michigan and federal election law," said Kelly Chesney, spokesman for Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.

Of particular concern to officials with the Advancement Project, a national civil rights group that works to extend voting rights to everyone, is a meeting that was canceled at the last minute between its members and Chris Thomas, the director of the state's Bureau of Elections. The meeting had been slated for Wednesday morning.

The group said it was concerned that the state has violated election laws in a variety of ways, including canceling voter registrations of people who apply for and receive a driver's license from another state, and requiring a second piece of picture ID if the poll worker cannot recognize the voter from a single piece of identification.

"Our goal for this meeting was to achieve resolutions to these issues, in a manner that complies with election officials, to remove potential barriers that would deny voter access to the ballot box," Bradley Heard, senior attorney with the project, said in a statement.

"Collaboration begins by all parties being willing, at a minimum, to discuss the issues at hand. Therefore, we hope that Mr. Thomas will work with us and others to remedy these problems and do his job to protect the franchise for all Michigan voters."

Chesney said the group had requested a meeting between a few of its members and Thomas. But on Tuesday evening, the project people informed Thomas they wanted other groups represented as well -- and indicated the meeting was a first step in bringing suit against the state, she said.

"They changed the intent of the meeting and they blindsided Chris Thomas (by seeking) a pre-litigation meeting," she said. "He said 'no.'"

Chesney said a person at a voting location who doesn't look like the individual in a photo ID can receive a provisional ballot that allows the person's vote to count, provided they show up with another ID within six days. A dramatic change in weight, for instance, could cause a poll worker to have doubts as to a person's identity, she said.

Chesney also noted that people who show up with no ID can still vote, if they sign an affidavit that they are indeed a registered voter.

She said that while the project group may not like some of the voting requirements and standards, the state is merely following the letter of Michigan and federal law.

No new meeting has been scheduled.

"At this point, the elections director has indicated that if the group wants to share materials and information with him, he would review them to see if any changes are warranted," she said.