Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan hired a law firm using up to $800,000 in taxpayer money to help his administration navigate through a throng of civil and criminal investigations. Both candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have called for him to resign. On Thursday he faces a grilling by a congressional committee in Washington. And as voters went to the polls on the state’s Primary Day last Tuesday, a group led by a Detroit pastor began an effort to recall him in a statewide referendum, a repeat of the movement that in 2012 targeted a fellow Republican, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. For a man who swept into office in 2010 by promoting his résumé as a no-nonsense accountant and businessman who was above politics, Governor Snyder now finds himself in the middle of the kind of bitter partisan warfare that he has long disdained. Many Michigan voters now blame him for how he handled two of the state’s biggest debacles, the tainted water crisis in Flint and the tattered Detroit public schools.
The Michigan Senate in December broke a pair of bills apart to avoid passing no-reason absentee voting, but now they’re facing calls to pass that bill from Gov. Rick Snyder and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. HB 4724 would allow voters to go to their local clerk’s office and either vote in person there or take an absentee ballot home without having a reason to vote absentee. Current Michigan law only allows absentee voting if a person falls into one of six categories, including being over age 60 or expecting to be out of town on election day. The bill was introduced in June, but gained traction when it was tie-barred to a bill that banned straight-ticket voting. That action would have meant that neither bill made it into law unless the other one did. However, the Senate broke that tie-bar in a late night session and the House agreed to it.
Lawmakers’ unexpected vote to block school districts and municipalities from informing the public about local ballot measures within two months of an election has left opponents pressuring Gov. Rick Snyder to veto the bill, which they say would keep voters in the dark about taxes and other issues. On Dec. 16, in the final hours of the Legislature’s last voting day of 2015, majority Republicans added the provision and others to campaign-finance legislation with no explanation and quickly passed the measure over objections from Democrats who said they were not told what was in it. Caught off guard, groups representing school officials, cities, libraries and other local entities are lobbying the Republican governor for a veto. He has until Jan. 11 to decide.
Michigan: Snyder: State of State won’t repeat pledge for easier absentee, voter registration | The Detroit News
Gov. Rick Snyder will set the tone for his re-election campaign and preview upcoming budget battles in tonight’s State of the State address. He is expected to talk about education, discuss what to do with a projected $1 billion surplus, renew the quest for more permanent road repair money and dwell on his accomplishments. What won’t be included is a repeat of his pledge from last year to join Secretary of State Ruth Johnson in seeking no-reason absentee voting and online voter registration — initiatives that are not popular among the Republican legislative majority. “I don’t think that’s something I’m going to emphasize because there was some effort to do that last year that didn’t work,” Snyder said in an interview Tuesday at the North American International Auto Show. “There’s a limited opportunity window, and given that it’s an election year, I think there are other things that will be priorities.”
Editorials: Signing campaign finance bill would betray Michigan Governor Snyder’s pledge to voters | Detroit Free Press
That grunting and straining you hear is the sound of Gov. Rick Snyder’s struggle to reconcile campaign finance legislation recently adopted by state lawmakers with a pledge he made as a candidate to help voters learn who’s spending how much to influence Michigan’s political process. But it simply can’t be done — and we urge the governor to stop trying before he hurts himself and the state government he has repeatedly promised to make more transparent and accountable. Senate Bill 661 started out as an unnecessary initiative to double the maximum amount that Michigan’s wealthiest political donors and political action committees could legally contribute to election campaigns.
Michigan: Flint black leaders say emergency manager law violates African Americans’ voting rights | MLive.com
Flint is one of the majority black cities where citizens’ voting rights are violated under the state’s emergency manager law, according to a lawsuit filed by the Detroit Branch of the NAACP against Gov. Rick Snyder and other top state officials. The president of the Flint Branch of the NAACP agrees with the claims. “We do feel like it’s a violation of the Voting Rights Act, we feel it’s a disenfranchisement of the voters,” said President Frances Gilcreast. The law allows the state to appoint emergency managers who have broad powers to override decisions of local elected officials.
Republicans handed Bobby Schostak another two-year term as state chairman Saturday and overwhelmingly endorsed a plan to change Michigan presidential electoral vote rules in a way opponents charge is intended to distort election results in favor of GOP candidates. By a 1,370-132 margin at the party convention in Lansing, GOP members approved a resolution backing a proposal from Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township, to divvy-up 14 of the state’s 16 electoral votes according to which candidate got the most votes in each congressional district. The other two would go to the state-wide vote total winner. That switch from a winner-take-all formula that has been in effect 175 years could water down the dominance Democrats have had in Michigan in presidential elections for the last 24 years.
President Barack Obama called Tuesday for a national commission to study ways to make it easier for Americans to vote, but one former Michigan secretary of state didn’t like the idea. Voting issues have been debated in Michigan with confusion over a citizenship checkoff on ballot applications and Gov. Rick Snyder and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson calling for changes to make it easier to register and cast absentee votes. “We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected. That includes our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote,” Obama said in the State of the Union. Obama said he’s appointing top members of his re-election campaign and the campaign of GOP nominee Mitt Romney to head up the commission.
A Republican-backed plan to change the way certain states allocate electoral votes has fizzled as quickly as it sprung onto the national consciousness. The slate of upcoming 2014 governor’s races is a major reason why that happened. Last month, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus voiced some support for the effort to award electoral votes in a handful of battleground states by congressional district. Since many of those congressional districts lean Republican, the plan, if passed in several swing states, would give future GOP presidential nominees a leg up. But for the Republican governors in these states, endorsing the idea — which Democrats can easily cast as a partisan power grab — would carry immense political risk on the eve of reelection campaigns that already promise to be challenging. So, the governors have mostly distanced themselves from such proposals.
Michigan: Clerk: No-reason absentee voting to become reality with governor’s support | Source Newspapers
After hearing Gov. Rick Snyder call on the Michigan Legislature to address the issue during his State of the State Address, Shelby Township Clerk Stanley Grot says he remains confident that it is “just a matter of time” until no-reason absentee voting becomes a reality. “Approximately two months ago, I called on Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and the Michigan Legislature to implement no-reason absentee voting in the state of Michigan,” Grot said in a statement. “Since then, I have spoken with Johnson, Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh, State Rep. Peter Lund and the office of Gov. Snyder. I have found that to some degree, everyone I spoke to believes no-reason absentee voting is common-sense government reform and should be implemented promptly.”
Republican proposals in swing states to change how electoral votes are allocated have set off alarms that the party is trying to rig future presidential elections. But the plans are going nowhere fast. In the majority of states where such measures are being considered – Virginia, Florida, Ohio and Michigan, all states that voted for President Obama in 2012 but have Republican-controlled legislatures – proposals to split Electoral College votes proportionally have either been defeated or are strongly opposed by officials in those states. The only remaining states are Pennsylvania, where an electoral vote change was unsuccessful in 2011, and Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker has expressed hesitance about any changes to the system. “I just said I hadn’t ruled it out. I’m not embracing it because it’s a double-edged sword,” Walker said in a recent interview with POLITICO. “What may look appealing right now depending on who your candidate was might, four or eight years from now, look like just the reverse. And the most important thing to me long term as a governor is what makes your voters be in play. One of our advantages as a swing state is that candidates come here … that’s good for voters. If we change that that would take that away and would largely make us irrelevant.”
National: Republicans In Key States Drop Plans To Alter How Electoral College Votes Are Awarded | TPM
Four states down, and just two remain. Key Republican officials in Virginia, Ohio, Florida, and Michigan are coming out against a RNC-backed scheme to rig the electoral vote in Democratic-leaning states in order to boost Republican presidential candidates. That leaves just Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as the remaining blue states with Republican statehouses actively considering the idea. Virginia was the first state to move on the idea in 2013, advancing a bill out of a state Senate subcommittee that would apportion its electoral votes by Congressional district rather than the winner-take-all method used in 48 of the 50 states. Had it been in place the year before, Mitt Romney would have won 9 of the state’s electoral votes to President Obama’s 4 despite losing the state’s popular vote. But after Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and key Republican lawmakers came out against it, the bill was defeated in committee Tuesday on an 11-4 vote.
Gov. Rick Snyder announced Wednesday that he and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson are teaming up to ask for legislation allowing Michiganians to register to vote online and to vote absentee without a reason — such as disability or being out of town — up to 45 days before Election Day. Johnson said her office has been updating its software over the past three years to allow for the voting changes and to accommodate more frequent campaign finance reporting, another goal on which she is working with Snyder. She didn’t speculate Wednesday night after the governor’s State of the State address on the chances of approval from the Legislature, which has been leery of liberalized voting rules. “We want to make it convenient and secure for everybody,” Johnson said.
Michigan: Voters must affirm citizenship on ballot application under bill signed by Snyder | Detroit Free Press
Voters won’t have to check a box affirming that they’re U.S. citizens when they go to vote in the future. But there will be a sentence on ballot applications affirming U.S. citizenship that every voter will have to sign before they get a ballot. After vetoing similar legislation in July, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill late Friday that requires the citizenship affirmation to be included on ballot applications. The amendment was included in a separate bill at about 2:30 a.m. on Dec. 14 in the final hours of legislature’s lame duck session.
Voters must declare they are qualified to vote before getting a ballot under a bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder. The Republican governor signed legislation Friday containing that requirement and other election law changes. Representatives for Snyder and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson say the leaders worked out concerns that led to his veto of similar legislation this summer.
Michigan: Snyder signs bills to overhaul recall rules despite opposition from Senate minority leader | The Detroit News
Without ceremony, Gov. Rick Snyder signed two bills Thursday that make sweeping changes to the process for recalling an elected official. Critics say the bills could make it nearly impossible to recall a state senator or representative by limiting signature gathering to 60 days — instead of the current 90-day window — and limiting recalls to May and November election dates. The legislation changes the dynamic of a recall election by requiring a challenger to run in the recall race against the elected official who is being recalled instead of holding a referendum on the incumbent. One of the bills creates a process for a special primary election to nominate a recall challenger. Governors, however, would still be subject to a yes-or-no recall vote, as stipulated in the state constitution.
Michigan: Legislature passes recall election reforms to the ire of Democrats | Washington Free Beacon
Republicans in Michigan capped off a prolific lame duck session that included turning the home of the United Auto Workers into a right-to-work state by passing recall reforms. The Michigan legislature on Friday pushed through a bill that will limit the ability of interest groups and residents to recall elected officials. Challengers now have 60 days to file recall petitions, down from 90, and recall votes now require opposition candidates rather than up-or-down votes. Liberal activists have campaigned to recall Republican Gov. Rick Snyder since May 2011. That chorus has gained a few key labor voices since Dec. 11 when Snyder made Michigan the 24th right-to-work state in the nation and the second in the industrial Midwest.
A federal judge late Friday ordered Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to remove a U.S. citizenship question from ballot applications for the Nov. 6 election, citing inconsistent enforcement and potential “confusion” at the polls. “It really is a burden on the right to vote in terms of slowing things down, in terms of confusion,” U.S. District Court Paul Borman said in ruling from the bench after a six-hour hearing. Johnson, a Republican, said she was disappointed by the judge’s ruling. She questioned why she was hauled into court Friday and defended the citizenship question as a tool to root out noncitizens on the voter rolls. “This is an education tool that we found that works,” Johnson told reporters.
Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office said Tuesday implementation of a new citizenship affirmation at the polls has gone “relatively smoothly” in response to a federal lawsuit challenging the ballot application question. Johnson, a Republican, responded Tuesday to a federal lawsuit filed last week by the ACLU of Michigan, SEIU, the Ingham County clerk and others challenging her authority to ask voters to affirm their citizenship before they vote. In the middle of the August primary, Johnson’s office backed away from its previous instructions to deny people ballots for refusing to answer the question amid confusion about her authority to impose the question — one month after Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a bill Johnson sought to add the citizenship question to state law.
A federal judge will likely decide whether Michigan voters will have to check off whether they are U.S. citizens when they go to the polls in November. A coalition of voting rights groups filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Detroit challenging Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s decision to require U.S. citizenship checkboxes on applications to vote, saying the boxes are unconstitutional and violate federal and state law. Mary Ellen Gurewitz, attorney for the plaintiffs, said the group will head to court within a day or two to request a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. “This is a matter that has to be addressed quickly because the forms are being ordered and printed and money is being spent,” she said.
Some local election officials are resisting Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s demand voting applications in the Nov. 6 general election that ask voters to affirm their U.S. citizenship. Clerks in Macomb County and Lansing plan to defy Johnson’s instructions and remove the question from ballot applications, and the Washtenaw County Election Commission voted Thursday to leave it off the forms after the county clerk planned to give townships and cities the option to ask about citizenship. “It seems like it doesn’t really add anything positive to the process. People have already affirmed their citizenship when they register to vote,” Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope told The Detroit News.
Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson vows that a check-off box asking voters to confirm their U.S. citizenship will once again appear on November ballot applications, raising concerns among voting rights advocates who argue it’s unnecessary, intimidating and could suppress voting. Johnson defends her decision to keep the box she ordered in the February and August primary elections as a legal and appropriate extra step to ensure only citizens participate in elections — even after fellow Republican Gov. Rick Snyder recently vetoed a bill that included a requirement for voters to check a similar citizenship box. “The secretary of state has the authority under state law to prescribe forms, including the ballot application form,” said department spokesman Fred Woodhams, who added this past week she’s pressing forward after a coalition led by the nonpartisan Michigan Election Coalition said it sent her a letter urging her to “immediately halt” using the citizenship check-off.
In light of all the regressive measures enacted by our Legislature over the past 18 months, Gov. Rick Snyder’s veto of a package of “voter ID” and registration reform bills was a welcome and unexpected occurrence. This legislation was nothing more than an attempt to suppress voter turnout. Much like attacks on collective bargaining, “election reform” bills that make the voting process more difficult have swept the nation in recent years. Voter suppression legislation has gained approval in Republican-controlled state governments at an alarming rate. For Snyder to stand up to the right wing of his party and reject these bills here in Michigan was an act of courage and conviction.
Michigan: Townships want state to pay for special election in Detroit-area congressional district | MLive.com
Michigan townships are asking the state to pay the estimated $650,000 cost of a special election to replace former Republican U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, who resigned after an embarrassing six-week-long saga surrounding his failure to qualify for the ballot. A special primary is scheduled for Sept. 5 in the 11th Congressional District – which includes parts of Wayne and Oakland counties. “Townships and other local government entities in this congressional district have been hit particularly hard by property tax revenue declines and revenue sharing cuts,” Judy Allen, director of legislative affairs for the Michigan Townships Association, said in a statement Tuesday. “While the state may not be legally obligated to cover the cost of the special election, MTA believes it isn’t right for the significant election costs to be borne solely by struggling local governments.” The special election to serve the last two months of McCotter’s term was reluctantly called by Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration after a review of the U.S. Constitution and state law. Snyder has resisted suggestions that the state pay all or some of extra cost.
Absentee ballots for the special election to fill U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s term were sent out Monday, a day later than allowed by federal rules. State elections officials are working with the U.S. Justice Department to get a waiver of the 45-day rule mandating how long before an election the ballots must be sent out. “The Justice Department is (very) strict on the 45 days,” State Elections Director Chris Thomas told the Board of State Canvassers on Monday. After the meeting, Thomas said there is a provision in the federal law for the Department of Justice to grant a waiver to the 45-day rule. Thomas told board members his office is “in discussions” with the Justice Department about a waiver. The tight timeframe is the result of McCotter’s resignation from Congress after a petition signature scandal. Gov. Rick Snyder’s office set Sept. 5 as the date of a special primary election to fill the remainder of McCotter’s term.
Four months away from a presidential election still considered a tossup, new battles are brewing over state election laws. A federal court in Washington began hearing arguments this week on whether a voter ID law in Texas discriminates against Hispanic voters. Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a bill last week that would have required voters to show identification before casting absentee ballots. The Justice Department rejected South Carolina’s voter ID law for the second time, saying it could disproportionately affect black voters. The state sued earlier this year. A federal court has scheduled oral arguments for Sept. 24, just 43 days before the election. A judge ruled in June that Wisconsin’s voter ID law violates the state constitution. An appeal is likely. Attorney General Eric Holder is promising an aggressive effort to safeguard voting rights.
Thaddeus McCotter’s resignation from Congress will cost taxpayers about $650,000 in special election costs, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said Tuesday in announcing the “unfortunate” conclusion the state must hold an election to fill the rest of his term. With six months left in his decade in Congress, McCotter’s abrupt exit last Friday followed a petition signature fraud investigation and revelation Thursday in The News that he had pitched a tawdry TV pilot written after his failed presidential bid. Absentee ballots for the Aug. 7 primary election have gone out, forcing the state to call a Sept. 5 special primary and Nov. 6 general election for the remainder of the Livonia Republican’s term. “We find it unfortunate that the resignation came so late that it’s not possible to hold the special primary election on the same day as our normal primary,” Calley said Tuesday, acting on behalf of Gov. Rick Snyder, who is out of the state. The state will not reimburse municipalities in Wayne and Oakland counties for the election, nor will McCotter be expected to pitch in, Calley said.
Michigan: McCotter’s resignation timing difficult for Michigan election officials | Detroit Free Press
Local election officials are anxiously awaiting word from Gov. Rick Snyder on whether a special election will be held to fill the remaining time of U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter’s term of office in Congress. The timing of McCotter’s resignation on Friday, following a petition signature scandal that erupted on Memorial Day weekend, couldn’t be much worse. It’s too late to include a special election during the Aug. 7 primary election because absentee ballots already have been mailed to thousands of voters. And the resignation comes as thousands of voters already are confronted with the prospect of new congressional representation because of redrawn districts, dictated by population shifts that are reported every 10 years by the U.S. Census.
As most legislative work around the country came to a standstill over the July 4th holiday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made headlines last week when he broke with the Republican Party to veto a law that would have tightened Michigan’s current “voter ID” law, just a few months ahead of Election Day. The move is an indication that despite the intense anxiety about the wave of voter ID laws, which place new restrictions on voters before they can cast a ballot, the legislation is facing tough challenges even before being enacted. Opponents have found a variety of means to mute the impact of such legislation. Republicans backing the laws, which have passed in 11 states in the past two years alone, insist that the measures are meant to curb voter fraud and are commonsense requirements that shouldn’t prove to be too onerous for any legitimately eligible voter. But Democrats see a more sinister design in the measures — as part of a broader GOP effort to rig elections in its favor by suppressing constituencies that tend to vote Democratic: minorities, low-income voters, students, and even women. That impression was fueled recently when Republican Mike Turzai, majority leader of the Pennsylvania House, highlighted the partisan impact of the state’s new voting restrictions. “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done,” Turzai said to applause at a Republican State Committee meeting.
Michigan: Governor to review holding special election for U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter’s seat | MLive.com
Gov. Rick Snyder said late Friday he does not yet have on answer on whether to schedule a special election so someone can serve out the term of U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter, who resigned abruptly. Spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Snyder received the Livonia Republican’s resignation letter in the afternoon. “The governor thanks the congressman for his years of service to our state and country,” she said. “We won’t have a definitive answer on next steps until we have the opportunity to more closely review Michigan’s election law and consult with the state’s election experts.” The U.S. Constitution says the governor shall hold elections to fill vacancies in the House. But with the Aug. 7 primary less than five weeks away, it may be too late to hold a coinciding special election then – when the only Republican on the ballot, Kerry Bentivolio, faces a write-in challenge from former state Sen. Nancy Cassis. Perhaps the election could be held during the November general election, though whoever wins would only serve about two months.