HOUGHTON – Promote the Vote, a petition campaign that seeks to change Michigan’s constitution to protect the right to vote, is gaining support among members of the Copper Country community.
Promote the Vote contains a number of legislative proposals which include expanding access to postal voting, creating an extended early voting period, retaining the affidavit option and allowing public and charitable sources to help fund the election.
The initiative was created by a nonpartisan coalition of Michigan-based voting rights groups, including Voters Not Politicians (VNP), the League of Women Voters of Michigan and the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
According to VNP Executive Director Nancy Wang, this effort is crucial to protect access to the vote. Wang and other voting advocates are concerned about the wave of misinformation that has followed the 2020 election cycle and recent legislative proposals that could make it harder to vote.
“Since 2020, we have seen many different attacks on voting for political purposes. Unfortunately, voting is used by politicians to gain power over each other at the expense of voters,” she says.
Regardless of this politicization, Wang believes Promote the Vote will uphold the right to vote for all, protecting access to the ballot and preventing partisan interference in elections.
“This petition comes from the perspective of voters — and what Michigan voters overwhelmingly want, no matter who we are, where we live, or what political party we support — we want safe, secure, accessible, and convenient elections. We want to be sure that we can vote and that our votes will count,” she says.
Before Promote the Vote can become a constitutional amendment, it needs the signatures of at least 425,059 Michigan residents, or 10% of the number of voters who participated in the last gubernatorial election.
If the petition reaches that signature threshold by July 11, the proposal will appear on the ballot for voters to decide in the statewide November election.
Promote the Vote organizers hope to collect 600,000 signatures by the end of June, and they are recruiting thousands of volunteers across the state to circulate the petition. Valorie Troesch is organizing signature collection efforts as the VNP Houghton and Keweenaw County team leader.
“I’m behind this because we see that voting rights could so easily be taken away or limited, and I just think that’s wrong. This is a very positive and non-partisan proposal that protects the voting rights of all and extends them to all,” she says.
Troesch thinks Promote the Vote’s mail-in voting provisions will be especially beneficial to voters in Copper Country. In 2020, two-thirds of Michigan voters voted by mail – a factor that contributed to the state’s record high turnout. But Michiganders don’t always have the ability to vote by mail.
Promoting the Vote would allow any voter in Michigan to vote by mail and ensure that mail-in ballot return envelopes bear postage. It would also allow Michigan residents to register on a permanent list of absentee voters. Once on this list, an absentee ballot would be automatically mailed to the voter each election, without the voter having to reapply.
Troesch said easier access to mail-in ballots would make voting more convenient for UP residents who live far from their polling place and have to travel a great distance to vote in person. She said absentee voting is also a convenient option for older voters, who make up a large portion of the UP population.
“These are things that there really isn’t much disagreement about. If you go down the street and ask people, most people want to be able to vote by mail and they don’t want it to become more difficult to vote,” she says.
Last week, the local group Voting Rights Advocates (VRA) hosted a virtual event where panelists discussed more of the Promote the Vote content.
Victoria Bergvall, signature collector and team leader for the Copper Country League of Women Voters, discussed a provision that would require polling stations to be open for nine days of early in-person voting before Election Day.
“That gives nine days to spread out this opportunity to vote. Polling stations must be open for nine consecutive days beginning on the second Saturday before the election and ending on the Sunday before the election,” she explained.
Bergvall argued that extending the early voting period would provide flexibility for working voters who may not be able to take time off to vote on Election Day. She felt it would also reduce long queues and waiting times at polling stations.
Bergvall also discussed a provision that would ensure there is at least one drop box in every municipality with at least 15,000 registered voters.
“This would allow the return of completed absentee voter ballots. The boxes would be distributed equitably within a municipality and accessible 24 hours a day, in the 40 days preceding an election and until 8 p.m. on election day,” she described.
Later in the event, the Reverend Robert Langseth discussed another provision that would allow charities and public entities to help fund the election. He explained that in Michigan, municipalities, counties and the state share election costs. But these costs increase due to the need for additional personnel and equipment.
“Why is additional funding important? Because a full-fledged representative democracy with open access doesn’t come cheap. Municipalities need funding from public sources and charities because of these increased election costs,” he said.
Langseth pointed out that Promote the Vote would require donors and their contributions to be made public, and that foreign funding would be prohibited.
Promote the Vote organizers have about 14 weeks to collect 425,059 signatures. Wang stressed the urgency of this effort and encouraged interested people to volunteer for signature-collecting efforts.
“It really is time to go. We have a lot of signatures to collect and there is a great opportunity to volunteer. We really all need to help protect voting rights in Michigan,” she says.
In Houghton, Valorie Troesch said as the weather warms, Promote the Vote volunteers will be sharing information and asking for signatures at community events and gathering places.
“Here in the UP we get discounts because we don’t have that many people, but the way I see it is every signing we get counts as much as a signing down, they’re all equal “, she says.
More information is available online at promotethevote2022.com.