Michigan Democrats are building on an effort to overhaul election laws in the state by allowing 16-year-olds to register before they can legally vote at 18 and adding more protections for election officials ahead of a 2024 presidential election that the swing state could play a critical role in.
The election bills package, signed Thursday by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, also includes legislation that will automatically register individuals to vote when they are released from incarceration. Michigan is the first state in the nation to implement such legislation, according to the advocacy group Voters Not Politicians.
"This groundbreaking step will cement Michigan as a voting rights leader and ensure every eligible voter can participate in our democratic process," Kim Murphy-Kovalick, programs director for Voters Not Politicians, said in a statement.
The package is the result of Michigan Democrats prioritizing expanding voting rights after the party flipped both chambers of the Legislature and kept control of the governor's office last year. In July, lawmakers implemented changes approved by voters last November that will require at least nine days of early in-person voting.
Earlier this month, Whitmer signed legislation to no longer make it a misdemeanor for individuals to pay for rides to polling locations through apps such as Uber and Lyft. Michigan election law had previously stated that "a person shall not hire a motor vehicle" to take them to vote unless they could not walk.
Several Republican lawmakers argued against the legislation, saying that a voter could be influenced while on the ride.
The changes precede a 2024 presidential election that could once again hinge on the results of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — three so-called blue wall states that were critical to President Joe Biden's 2020 win.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson praised the legislation signed in Detroit, saying it was a "great step into the 2024 election cycle where we will be prepared for all the bullies who are going to show up on our doorstep."
The package looks to further protect election officials by criminalizing acts of intimidation during an election. An individual who intimidates an election official "with the specific intent of interfering with the performance of that election official's election related duties," could be punished with a misdemeanor for the first two violations and a felony for the third violation, according to the law.
About 1 in 5 election workers know someone who left their election job for safety reasons and 73% of local election officials said harassment has increased since 2020, according to a Brennan Center survey published in April.
"We're here today to protect the people who protect democracy," Benson said at the signing.
Michigan will also join 16 states and the District of Columbia in allowing 16-year-olds to preregister to vote before they turn 18, according to a House Fiscal Agency analysis. Supporters hope the new legislation will increase young voter turnout and alleviate wait times due to last-minute registration.
Michigan allows people to register to vote on Election Day, which prompted such long lines on college campuses in 2022 that the last ballot cast at the University of Michigan came at 2:05 a.m.
Starting in June 2025, the Michigan Secretary of State's office will be required to coordinate with the state Department of Corrections to ensure that eligible individuals are automatically registered to vote, with the opportunity to decline the voter registration, on release from incarceration.
The governor also signed bills aimed at curbing deceptive uses of artificial intelligence and manipulated media. Campaigns on the state and federal level will be required to clearly say which political advertisements airing in Michigan are created using artificial intelligence. In addition, the use of AI-generated deepfakes within 90 days of an election will be prohibited without a separate disclosure identifying the media as manipulated.
Deepfakes are fake media that misrepresent someone as doing or saying something they didn't. They're created using generative artificial intelligence, a type of AI that can create convincing images, videos or audio clips in seconds.
There are increasing concerns that generative AI will be used in the 2024 presidential race to mislead voters, impersonate candidates and undermine elections on a scale and at a speed not yet seen.
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