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Gov. Whitmer vetoes 4 election bills at NAACP dinner, says they perpetuated 'big lie'

Detroit Free Press logo Detroit Free Press 10/4/2021 Clara Hendrickson, Detroit Free Press
Rev Dr. Wendell Anthony and Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist watch as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetos voting legislation proposed by state legislators in front of members attending the annual NAACP Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner Sunday, Oct. 03, 2021 at the TCF Center. © Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press Rev Dr. Wendell Anthony and Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist watch as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetos voting legislation proposed by state legislators in front of members attending the annual NAACP Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner Sunday, Oct. 03, 2021 at the TCF Center.

During a Sunday dinner with the Detroit Branch NAACP, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed four election bills, the first of dozens expected to land on her desk following the contentious 2020 presidential election and the flurry of legislative activity it has prompted to overhaul voting rules across the country. 

The measures would have codified current election practices, required election challengers to undergo training and expanded the types of places that could serve as polling locations. 

Whitmer said that the legislation "would have perpetuated the 'big lie' or made it harder for Michiganders to vote." 

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The Rev. Wendell Anthony, Detroit Branch NAACP  president, applauded Whitmer's weekend vetoes, saying: "She is the governor wherever she is from her desk in Lansing to a dinner at the NAACP. She is still 'Big Gretch' and has the pen to prove it!" 

All four bills passed with bipartisan support in the Michigan House and some received enough Democratic support to secure the votes needed for a veto override in the lower chamber. But the Michigan House Democratic caucus stated its support of Whitmer's vetoes in a tweet saying that she was upholding the right to vote by rejecting the legislation. 

Democratic support for the legislation was not as robust in the upper chamber. Sen. Paul Wojno, D-Warren, was the lone Democratic lawmaker in the Michigan Senate to support the measures. He is the the sole Democratic lawmaker who sits on the Senate Elections Committee.

Whitmer wrote in a letter stating her objections that the legislation that would have banned voting equipment from being connected to the internet was unnecessary and misleading. Electronic pollbooks and tabulators are not connected to the internet when voters and ballots are processed during an election. 

Another bill would have specified who could access the state's voter files. A representative from the Secretary of State's Office told a House panel in May that the GOP-introduced bill was based on misinformation that third parties currently have access to the voter files. Whitmer shared that concern. 

Another bill vetoed by Whitmer would have allowed privately owned buildings, such as recreation clubhouses or hotel conference centers, to serve as polling locations. 

The bipartisan bill was introduced by state Reps. Ann Bollin, R-Brighton, who chairs the House Elections and Ethics Committee, and Matt Koleszar, D-Plymouth, the committee's minority vice-chair. Whitmer wrote that the legislation would have made it more difficult for seniors and those living in large apartment complexes to vote. The bill would have allowed municipalities to set up polling locations at large apartments or senior homes only if other options weren't available.

More: First set of elections bills to head to Whitmer's desk following Thursday vote

More: Petition to overhaul voter ID laws receives state board approval to collect signatures

Michigan Republicans blasted Whitmer for opposing the measures.

"Imagine vetoing a bipartisan bill allowing senior centers and apartment complexes to serve as polling locations and claiming you're protecting voting rights," the Michigan Senate Republican caucus tweeted.

Bollin accused Whitmer of "playing politics" in rejecting the bills: "Once again, Governor Whitmer is taking a cheap and easy shot in front of a captive audience tonight in Detroit." 

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, echoed Bollin in a statement.

"It should not be overlooked that these were sound, bipartisan bills that would have improved our elections, pure and simple," he said. "The bitter, unfortunate irony is that while the Governor spent months falsely accusing Republicans of playing politics with our elections, it is the Governor who played politics in the end." 

Whitmer signaled that she is willing to consider at least one piece of legislation that she vetoed in a revised form. 

The bill that would have required election challengers to undergo comprehensive training created by the Secretary of State's Office is worth consideration, Whitmer wrote. But in its current form, the bill lacks the necessary funding, Whitmer stated.

During the 2020 presidential election, many election challengers mistook standard processes for election fraud, and election officials and lawmakers from both parties have said that training for challengers could help prevent confusion in future elections.

Whitmer has vowed to veto any bills that would make it more difficult to vote. Many of the most controversial measures that would impact voting rights in  Michigan have not yet landed on Whitmer's desk.

Meanwhile, an initiative petition drive that would circumvent the governor's veto of several GOP election bills recently secured approval from the Board of State Canvassers to begin collecting signatures. 

Clara Hendrickson fact-checks Michigan issues and politics as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA. Contact her at chendrickson@freepress.com or 313-296-5743. Follow her on Twitter @clarajanehen.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Gov. Whitmer vetoes 4 election bills at NAACP dinner, says they perpetuated 'big lie'

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