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Promote the Vote receive support from UP residents

Photo provided by Valorie Troesch Elizabeth Benyi, a circulator from Keweenaw County, talks with a Michigan voter about Promote the Vote 2022.

HOUGHTON — Promote the Vote, a petition drive that aims to amend Michigan’s constitution in order to protect voting rights, is gaining support among Copper Country community members.

Promote the Vote contains a number of proposals that include expanding absentee voting access, creating an extended early voting period, upholding the affidavit option, and allowing public sources and charities to help fund elections.

The initiative was created by a non-partisan 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, the effort is crucial in protecting voting access. Wang and other voting advocates are concerned by the wave of misinformation that followed the 2020 election cycle, and by recent legislative proposals that could make voting more difficult.

“Since 2020, we’ve seen many different attacks on voting for political gain. Unfortunately, voting is being used by politicians to gain power over each other at the expense of voters,” she said.

Regardless of this politicization, Wang believes that Promote the Vote will uphold voting rights for everyone, by protecting ballot access and preventing partisan interference in elections.

“This petition comes from the perspective of the voters – and what voters in Michigan overwhelmingly want, regardless of who we are, where we live, or what political party we support – we want elections that are safe, secure, accessible and convenient. We want confidence that we can vote and that our votes will count,” she said.

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 this signature threshold before July 11, the proposal will appear on the ballot for voters to decide upon in the November statewide election.

Promote the Vote organizers hope to collect 600,000 signatures before the end of June, and they’re 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 are finding that voting rights could so easily be taken away or limited, and I just think that’s wrong. This is a very positive, nonpartisan proposal that protects voting rights for everyone and expands them for everyone,” she said.

Troesch believes that Promote the Vote’s absentee voting provisions will be especially beneficial to Copper Country voters. In 2020, two thirds of Michigan voters cast absentee ballots – a factor that contributed to the state’s record-breaking voter turnout.

Promote the Vote would allow any Michigan voter to vote absentee, and would guarantee that absentee ballot return envelopes are equipped with pre-paid postage. It would also allow Michigan residents to register to be on a permanent absentee voter list. Once on this list, an absentee ballot would automatically be mailed to the voter at each election, without the voter having to re-apply.

Troesch reasoned that easier access to absentee ballots would make voting more convenient for U.P. residents who live far from their polling place and must 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 U.P.’s 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 absentee ballot and they don’t want it to become harder to vote,” she said.

Last week, local group Voting Rights Advocates (VRA) hosted a virtual event where panelists discussed more of Promote the Vote’s contents.

Victoria Bergvall, a signature collector and team leader for the Copper Country League of Women Voters, discussed a provision that would require polling places to be open for nine days of in-person early voting prior to election day.

“This provides nine days to spread out that possibility of when to vote. Polling places 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 be unable to take time off to vote on election day. She reasoned that it would also lessen long lines and wait times at polling places.

Bergvall also discussed a provision that would guarantee that there be at least one dropbox in every municipality with at least 15,000 registered voters.

“It would allow for the return of completed absent voter ballots. The boxes would be distributed equitably around a municipality and accessible 24 hours per day, within the 40 days prior to an election and until 8 p.m. on election day,” she described.

Later in the event, Rev. Robert Langseth discussed another provision that would allow charities and public entities to help fund elections. He explained that in Michigan, municipalities, counties and the state share election costs. But these costs are rising due to the need for additional personnel and equipment.

“Why is the additional funding important? Because a full representative democracy with open access isn’t cheap. Municipalities need funding from public sources and charities because of these increased costs of elections,” he said.

Langseth emphasized that Promote the Vote would require donors and their contributions to be publicly disclosed, and that foreign funding would be prohibited.

Promote the Vote organizers have roughly 14 weeks to collect 425,059 signatures. Wang emphasized the urgency of this effort, and encouraged interested individuals to volunteer for signature collection efforts.

“This really is go time. We have a lot of signatures to gather and there is a great opportunity to volunteer. We really need to all pitch in to protect voting rights in Michigan,” she said.

In Houghton, Valorie Troesch said that as the weather warms, Promote the Vote volunteers will be sharing information and requesting signatures at community events and gathering places.

“Here in the U.P., we get discounted because we don’t have so many people, but the way that I look at this is that every single signature we get counts just as much as a signature downstate, they’re all equal,” she said.

More information is available online at promotethevote2022.com.

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