Whitmer’s Veto Reveals Underlying Soft Bigotry

In a misguided attempt to “secure voting rights,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, vetoed three Republican-backed election integrity bills last month.  Under current Michigan law, voters who do not have an acceptable photo ID are permitted to vote by simply signing an affidavit attesting that they do not have ID.  No verification is required for this process beyond comparing the affidavit signature to the signature kept on file by the state.  If the on-site personnel – who are not required to have any relevant training – are satisfied that the signatures match, the vote can be cast.  One of the proposed laws, Senate Bill 303, would have removed the affidavit option and required a photo ID to vote. 

Whitmer also vetoed Senate Bill 304, which would have required Michiganders voting by provisional ballots to confirm their identity within six days of an election in order for the vote to be counted.  Critically, Whitmer also vetoed companion legislation, House Bill 5007, which would have facilitated the proposed photo ID requirements by waiving most fees required to obtain state identification cards.  

None of these proposed laws, nor the ones like them in other states, are out of the ordinary.  They are perfectly in line with countless other voter integrity laws that have been proposed – or have long been on the books – across the country.  They certainly do not justify the cries of “New Jim Crow” that are so prevalent today.  Nevertheless – despite the total lack of racially discriminatory language in the bills, and without citing any actual evidence of racially discriminatory intent – Whitmer was quick to claim she vetoed these bills to preserve racial equality. 

“Currently, any Michigander of any age is able to obtain a state ID card at their local branch of the Secretary of State’s office for ten dollars, provided they bring proof of identity and residence.”

Whitmer explained her vetoes of Senate Bills 303 and 304 in a letter to the Michigan Senate.  After briefly denying assertions that affidavit ballots are linked to voter fraud, She moved on to race, claiming that “these bills would disproportionately harm communities of color.”  Whitmer pointed out that nonwhite voters are several times more likely to, in her words, “lack access” to ID on election day.  The governor offered this opinion without explaining what she meant by “lacking access” to ID, even as she claimed that “nearly all of those affidavit ballot voters actually possessed state-issued identification.”  If these voters “actually possess” state-issued identification,” what is the basis for Whitmer’s statement that they “lack access” to ID?  Whitmer congratulated herself for ensuring that “voting restrictions that produce such a racially disparate impact” not become law in Michigan, before finishing off the letter with a non sequitur quote from the late civil rights activist John Lewis.

In her letter, Whitmer made no mention of House Bill 5007.  This bill would have made it easier for Michiganders of all races to obtain a state ID by waiving fees.  Does Whitmer not want the “disenfranchised” voters of Michigan to be able to procure a state ID for free?  Whitmer correctly claimed that white voters are more likely to have the proper ID with them on election day.  However, she did not explain why she believes that white voters have “more access” to ID.  The process to obtain a state ID in the state of Michigan is a simple one, and it certainly does not vary based on race.  Currently, any Michigander of any age is able to obtain a state ID card at their local branch of the Secretary of State’s office for ten dollars, provided they bring proof of identity and residence.  Under House Bill 5007, that fee would have been waived and the Secretary of State would have been required to give “priority” to ID applicants who were seeking IDs in order to facilitate their voting in an election. 

Yet the implication of Whitmer’s letter is that she believes nonwhite Americans are somehow less capable of following this process than white Americans.  This is obviously not the case, and Whitmer’s suggestion is itself insulting to the very communities of color she claims to be protecting.  There is no legal or institutional reason that makes white Americans more able to obtain a state ID than anybody else.  Whitmer’s impassioned vetoes read like what George W. Bush famously called “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” and are beneath her.  Americans of all backgrounds deserve better than her condescension.

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About Chris Coffey

Chris Coffey, Editor in Chief of the Michigan Review, is a senior majoring in History with minors in Public Policy and Medieval & Early Modern Studies. Chris studied abroad last fall at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He is also currently Senior Editor of Midwestern Citizen.