LANSING (AP) - Protesters disrupted a Michigan House committee meeting on Tuesday as lawmakers were approving several proposed election law changes, including one that would require residents to present photo identification or a birth certificate when registering to vote.
Michigan voters must now present a photo ID when they go to a polling place to vote, but not when they register. Supports say the measure would protect against voter fraud, but opponents argue it would hamper voter registration drives and disenfranchise elderly and poor residents who may not have a photo ID.
The crowd of about 50 people, many of whom came on two chartered buses from Detroit, loudly chanted, “Respect our vote!” A similar number watched the proceedings on television in an adjacent room because they couldn’t fit into the hearing room.
House sergeants removed a few of the rowdier protesters during the House Redistricting and Elections Committee hearing.
Voter advocacy groups said the measures would create obstacles to voting and registering to vote.
Committee Chairman Pete Lund said the proposals, which now go to the full House, won’t stop people from legitimately voting, and he questioned if the protesters understood the legislation. Similar bills already have passed the Senate.
Lund, a Republican from Macomb County’s Shelby Township, said after the meeting that “some people like to cause trouble.”
The measures are opposed by nonpartisan groups such as the League of Women Voters and Project Vote.
Patricia Selby, election counsel and manager of the Michigan Election Administration Program for Washington-based Project Vote, said Republicans backing the measures haven’t cited examples of election fraud in Michigan.
“The bills … seem to be creating barriers, not promoting voting in Michigan,” she said, adding that they do little to improve what she considers an already strong, secure election system in the state.
One of the protest organizers, the Rev. Charles Williams II of the Historic King Solomon Baptist Church of Detroit, was escorted out after telling the Republican-led committee that the blood of civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Rosa Parks “is on your hands.”
“It’s unconscionable,” Williams said of the legislation, adding that the measures are “an opportunity to dismiss democracy in Michigan.”
Among other changes, the package also would require a voter to present a photo ID when applying for absentee ballot in person. Those voters could sign affidavits saying they don’t have the ID and still pick up ballots, but those ballots could be challenged.
The bills also would require third-party voter registration groups such as the League of Women Voters to register with the state and receive training, and create an inactive voter file composed of voters who don’t vote for six consecutive years. The measures also would require the absentee voter ballot if an individual whose registration record is in the inactive file to be prepared as a challenged ballot.
Williams said the biggest trouble could come immediately after an election, when judges could simply “throw out” challenged ballots.
“Judges should not decide elections, people should,” he said.
Michigan is already among 16 states that require or request a photo ID of voters when they cast ballots, though not all of the laws have taken effect, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The conference’s website says election legislation is pending in 32 states this year, including 10 with proposals to strengthen existing voter ID laws.
The efforts have been largely pushed by Republicans and opposed by Democrats.
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