Michigan bills aim to counter election discrimination, fund voter lawsuits

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(The Center Square) – The Michigan Senate is expected to soon vote on legislation meant individual voting protections in state elections.

A four-bill package would create a state fund to reimburse voter discrimination lawsuit costs, set up an election and voting database and provide help to disabled or non-English speaking voters, among other changes.

Supporters say the legislation will protect voters from discrimination on the basis of race, ability or language. The bills would supply legal pathways and resources for citizens to sue local governments for 15th Amendment violations. This counteracts the 2013 SCOTUS ruling in Shelby County v. Holder that made it harder for individuals to sue if they believed they were hindered from voting on the basis of race.

“The MVRA represents a historic pledge to every Michigan citizen – your right to vote is sacred and it will be protected,” said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

SB 401, among other changes, would create the Michigan Voting Rights Act, which grants courts broad authority “to order adequate remedies that were tailored to address a violation in any action brought under the MVRA,” such as the violation of the rights of disabled voters, voters who need language assistance, and voters part of a racial minority, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency analysis.

The act would also create the Michigan Voting Rights Assistance Fund in the state Treasury, which would reimburse plaintiffs and local governments for up to $50,000 in certain expenses before litigation.

The Voting and Elections Database and Institute Act of SB 402 would create an institute and database for collecting, archiving and making available state election data and voting records, which could be used as evidence in court.

SB 403 would create the Language Assistance for Elections Act, which requires local governments to provide language assistance to voters with limited English, and allow said voters “aggrieved by a violation of language assistance requirements” to file a lawsuit.

SB 404 would require local governments to notify the Michigan secretary of state for various changes to the election process, among other things.

Opponents say the legislation is unnecessary, overly complicated, costly and potentially harmful.

“This so-called ‘State Voting Rights Act’ legislation purports to protect voting rights, but our right to vote is already well protected by the Michigan Constitution,” Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Waucedah Township, said in a news release. “Local clerks who diligently follow the law should not have to constantly worry about lawsuits if someone objects to how best to effectively and fairly run an election in their community.”

The legislation, which is an all-or-nothing package, would cost more than $300,000 a year to implement.

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