What you need to know about Michigan’s voter rights ballot proposal

Having trouble understanding all the voter rules in Proposal 2? WDET and Citizens Research Council of Michigan break them down in this guide.

Absentee voters

Voters casting their absentee ballots in person at a satellite voting center in Detroit.

What is Proposal 2?

Proposal 2 would enshrine voting rules such as the fundamental right to vote without harassment, require nine days of early in-person voting and more, into the Michigan constitution. Some of the provisions are currently state laws. Others would be brand new. The official Proposal 2 ballot language is as follows:

Proposal 22-2: A Proposal To Amend The State Constitution To Add Provisions Regarding Elections.

    • This proposed constitutional amendment would:
    • Recognize fundamental right to vote without harassing conduct;
    • Require military or overseas ballots be counted if postmarked by election day;
    • Provide voter right to verify identity with photo ID or signed statement;
    • Provide voter right to single application to vote absentee in all elections;
    • Require state-funded absentee-ballot drop boxes, and postage for absentee applications and ballots;
    • Provide that only election officials may conduct post-election audits;
    • Require nine days of early in-person voting;
    • Allow donations to fund elections, which must be disclosed;
    • Require canvass boards certify election results based only on the official records of votes cast.

Should this proposal be adopted?

The proposal is spearheaded by Promote the Vote, the same group behind Proposal 3 in 2018, the ballot measure that enshrined same day voter registration, no-reason absentee voting and other voting rights into Michigan’s constitution after that proposal passed. Proposal 2 is seen as an extension of the 2018 proposal and a response to recent conservative attempts to change election policy in the state.

“For a number of the proponents, they view voting as being under attack by Michigan legislative efforts to tighten voting requirements, to cut down on voting convenience,” says Craig Thiel, the research director at the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan. “This is a direct reaction to those efforts.”

In 2021, Michigan Republicans introduced election-related bills that would have done things like require people to present an ID when voting, not allow absentee ballots to be sent out automatically every election, and barred private companies and individuals from making donations to election departments. These bills passed along party lines, but before they could become law, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed them.

To get around Whitmer, conservatives launched a petition drive called Secure MI Vote. It includes several election rules like requiring voters to have photo IDs. With 340,047 valid signatures, the petition could be approved by the Michigan Legislature as law and not be subject to a veto by the Governor. The campaign says it collected more than 540,000 signatures and submitted them to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office in July. They are currently waiting for the signatures to be verified to see if they have enough.

Should these provisions go in Michigan’s constitution?

A key question to consider when deciding how to vote on Proposal 2 is if the voting rules contained in it it should be written into the state’s constitution, or if they are best left up to the state legislature. In theory, the state’s constitution is meant to dictate rules that are more static and the legislature typically dictates rules that may need to be tweaked from time to time.

“When we have very detailed material in the constitution that turns out to be outdated or unworkable, it can gum up government and how government operates,” says Thiel.

Once a law is written into the constitution, it’s more difficult to modify it than a law passed by the legislature. When a mandate is written into the constitution, a vote of the people is required to make changes. Unless a special election is called for, citizens only vote on ballot measures once every 2 years. Changes can happen more quickly with laws determined by the legislature.

“We have elected officials go to Lansing and cast votes on our behalf. They propose legislation that gets approved, goes to the governor, and the governor signs off,” says Thiel. “The legislature, when it wants to, can work in a fairly rapid pace.”

The ID Issue

Currently, when a voter goes to a precinct or goes to their clerk’s office to apply for an absentee ballot, they are asked to show their ID. If they don’t have one on them or at all, but they are a registered voter and are in something called the qualified voter file, they can sign an affidavit, a sworn statement that includes the voter’s name and address. With the affidavit signed, the voter can go ahead and vote on a regular ballot. If they are voting at the polls, their signature is not checked against what’s on file unless a challenger, a person who has signed up to be at the polls to scrutinize the election process, challenges them. If they are voting absentee, then their signature will be checked against what’s on file, as is the case with all absentee voters. If Proposal 2 passes, the current state law will be enshrined into the constitution.

Opponents of Proposal 2 say that most people support a voter ID requirement. A 2021 survey conducted by the Glengariff Group for the Detroit Regional Chamber found that about 80 percent of Michiganders polled were in favor of having to show a government issued ID to vote. Out of respondents identified as “strong Democrats,” nearly 60 percent were in favor.

“It’s a common sense provision that everyone can handle and would heighten security in our state,” says Secure MI Voter spokesperson Jamie Row. “It’s also something that voters can rally around to give them confidence that our elections are fair, open and accurate.”

In fact, election officials from both major parties say Michigan elections are already fair, open and accurate. Cases of fraud are extremely rare. Even the conservative Heritage Foundation found only four documented instances of voter fraud in Michigan since 2015, plus a case of ballot petition fraud case in 2016 (Editor’s note: the list does not include the petition fraud scandal of 2022 that knocked multiple Republican gubernatorial candidates out of the race).

“The current law, which gives that option of the ID or a signed affidavit… is working,” says Clare Allenson, the Democracy for All Director at Michigan League of Conservation Voters, one of the nonpartisan organizations that helped get Proposal 2 on the ballot.

According to state records, 99.8% of voters presented their ID when they cast their ballot on election day in 2020. Allenson says Proposal 2 provides safeguards for the relatively small number of people who show up to vote without an ID. “And those, unfortunately, happen to be voters that the opposition is interested in preventing from voting,” she says.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Michigan, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania looked at who voted in the 2016 presidential election in Michigan without an ID. The study concluded that this population is more likely to be people of color and they’re more likely to vote Democrat.

Read more: Michigan 2022 Midterm Elections: What you need to know

Misleading messages

Both proponents and opponents of Proposal 2 have been accused of putting out misleading messages.

Conservatives like Senator Jim Runestad of White Lake, Representative Matt Maddock of Milford and others said in a signed letter that an ad put out by the Promote the Vote campaign behind Proposal 2 is deceptive.

In the ad, a man says, “Prop 2 puts our voting rights directly in the state constitution.” Then, directly after, a woman says, “including voter ID requirements.”

“This video is incredibly deceptive as it claims Prop 2 will add voter ID provisions into the state constitution when in reality Prop 2 explicitly makes mandatory voter ID laws unconstitutional,” says Emily Bir, a spokesperson for the Protect MI Voter ID campaign, another group that opposes Proposal 2.

When WDET asked the Promote the Vote campaign to respond to these allegations, Allenson said “Proposal 2 requires each and every voter to provide photo identification or sign a legal an affidavit. This is a stringent requirement comparable to or stricter than 37 other states and D.C.”

A text message sent by the Protect MI Voter ID campaign.

The Protect MI Voter ID campaign, who, again, opposes Proposal 2, has put out their own ads that have been called deceiving. They’ve sent out text messages that say “VOTE NO on PROP 2! Extreme Liberals want to allow Murderers, Rapists, and Incarcerated Felons to vote. They’d rather allow felons to vote than see Trump win another election!”

For the record, rapists and murders actually can currently vote in Michigan as long as they’re not in prison or jail. But Proposal 2 would do nothing to change the ability to vote for people in prison or jail, they would continue to be barred from voting.

Click on the audio player at the top of the page to hear a story on the voter ID aspect of Proposal 2.

Analysis by Citizens Research Council of Michigan

Proposal 2 has several provisions beyond the voter ID rule, detailed above. The other stipulations included in the ballot measure have been thoroughly researched and explained by the nonpartisan group Citizens Research Council of Michigan in their own voter materials. WDET is including a portion of their exhaustive analysis here with permission from the organization:

Military and Overseas Voting

Statewide adoption of Proposal 2018-3, the first Promote the Vote proposal, established in the state constitution a new “voting right” for Michigan voters that are overseas or serving in the military and unable to vote in person. This relatively small group of voters has a constitutional right to have an absentee voter ballot sent to them at least forty-five (45) days before an election.

Proposal 2, if adopted, would expand those voting rights granted to Michigan overseas/military voters by extending the timeframe in which their ballots must be accepted and counted. Current Michigan election law requires that all Michigan overseas/ military ballots received by 8:00 pm on Election Day be counted. The proposal would grant these voters a right to have their absentee ballots deemed “timely received if postmarked on or before election day and received by the appropriate election official within six (6) days after such election”. It also includes detailed definitional language to provide a very clear criteria (i.e., postmark date) for determining whether to count an overseas/military ballot received by a local clerk.

States differ in how they handle receiving and counting overseas/military ballots with different timeframes for postmarking and receiving overseas/ military ballots. For example, Ohio and Indiana allow ballots postmarked on or before Election Day to be counted for another 10 days, while Illinois provides an additional 14 days for these ballots to be counted. Wisconsin, like Michigan, currently requires all overseas/military ballots to be received by the time polls close on Election Day.

Absentee Ballot Application and Voting

Michigan has experienced an explosion in “no-reason” absentee voting since voters gained the constitutional right to vote in this manner in 2018. Some 3.3 million people (60 percent of all ballots cast) voted absentee in the 2020 presidential election. More recently, about 50 percent of the total votes cast at the August 2022 primary election (2.1 million) used the absentee voting option. This compares to less than 25 percent of all ballots cast via absentee at the November 2018 general election.

With expanded access to this method and more voters using it, some observers have challenged the security surrounding the absentee voting process and have recommended changes to it. For example, the Secure MI Vote petition would require citizens to provide, in addition to their signature, their driver license number, state-issued personal identification number, or last four digits of their social security number when they apply for an absentee ballot. Proposal 22-2 can be seen as an attempt to head off such future legislative changes by codifying existing provisions in the state constitution.

Signature Validation

Proposal 2 also affirms current law that provides eligible voters with the right to be able to prove their identity by supplying a signature to the local election official when requesting an absentee ballot or when voting by absentee ballot through the mail. Further, the proposal details the procedure that local officials must follow to verify the signature supplied on an absentee ballot application or on a returned completed absentee ballot. In both cases, the proposed constitutional language directs the election official to compare the signature provided by the voter to that voter’s signature contained in the state’s Qualified Voter File. The language further states that if an official is unable to match the signature provided, or the voter fails to sign either the application or absentee ballot, the voter has the right to be notified and afforded due process, including an “equitable opportunity” to correct the signature issue.

This provision for signature comparison matches how election officials currently process mail-in absentee ballot applications and voting under Michigan law. Like the in-person voter identification provisions of the proposal, this section of Promote the Vote would establish this process as a separate voting right in the state constitution.

Postage Costs

If voters approve Proposal 2, the State of Michigan would be required to cover postage costs associated with returning absentee ballot applications and ballots. Current absentee voting practices in Michigan are mixed on this issue. Some communities cover postage costs for applications and ballots. Many communities also provide access to drop boxes for electors to return these materials. In many areas, however, residents are responsible for these postage costs to return an application or a completed ballot. Some observers see the cost of postage as a barrier to returning a ballot, or as a type of poll tax.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states and Washington, D.C., require local election officials to provide return postage for mailed ballots. This is typically a business-reply mailing, so that local officials only pay for return postage for the ballots that are actually returned via the U.S. Postal Service. The NCSL notes that the U.S. Postal Service has a policy of prioritizing election mail, especially ballots, and will deliver a ballot envelope even if it does not have sufficient postage. In such cases, the Postal Service will bill the local jurisdictions for the price of postage.

Application/Ballot Tracking

Proposal 2 would require the state to operate a system to track absentee ballot applications and ballots. The system must provide citizens with the ability to obtain the status of their submitted absentee applications/ballots and it must provide voters with notification and instructions about any deficiencies in their submitted applications/ballots. The Michigan Department of State currently operates and maintains such a system as part of the Michigan Voter Information Center; it allows voters access to information about their absentee ballot and provides additional elections-related information (e.g., voter registration status, local clerk name, polling location, etc.). Michigan is one of 20 states that provide their local jurisdictions with access to such an application/ballot tracking system currently. Effectively, then this provision simply requires the state to maintain the functionality of the current system.

Drop Boxes

Under Proposal 2, the State of Michigan would be responsible for supplying every municipality (cities, villages and townships as they are responsible for running elections) with a secure drop-box to accept absentee applications/ballots. Local jurisdictions with 15,000 or more registered voters would be provided multiple drop-boxes at state expense with the requirements that the boxes are distributed “equitably throughout the municipality” and accessible 24-hours a day for the 40 days prior to Election Day and until 8:00 pm on Election Day.

Currently, local governments have complete discretion over the availability, number, and placement of absentee voting drop-boxes in their jurisdictions. However, state law was amended in 2020 to require all drop-boxes installed by a local government after October 1, 2020, to meet certain state requirements for structural design, labeling/identification, and security (including video monitoring and lighting). The state-funded drop-boxes required in Proposal 2 would have to meet these state requirements.

The Citizens Research Council estimates the state’s roughly 1,750 cities, villages and townships would require just under 2,000 secure drop-boxes under this provision of the proposal. While more than 1,650 of these governments would receive just a single box, 107 municipalities have more than 15,000 register voters and would be eligible for additional boxes per the proposal. For example, Detroit would be eligible to receive 29 state-funded boxes, Grand Rapids 10, and Warren seven. The state’s largest township, Clinton Township in Macomb County, would be eligible for six boxes.

Absentee Ballot List

Another absentee voting provision included in Proposal 2 would allow registered voters to request an absentee ballot for all future elections by making a single, signed application. The right to receive future absentee ballots could only be rescinded under four conditions: 1) voter request, 2) voter is no longer qualified to vote, 3) voter has moved, and 4) voter fails to vote for six consecutive years. This provision is intended to require local clerks to maintain “permanent” absentee voter lists for their jurisdictions and require them to send absentee ballots for each election. The postage costs for required mailings would be covered by the State of Michigan under the proposal.

Early Voting

Proposal 2 would provide qualified voters with a new in-person early voting option for all statewide and federal elections. Voters would not need an excuse to exercise this right, just as they are no longer required to provide an excuse to request and vote an absentee voter ballot. But unlike absentee voting that largely occurs through mail-in ballots, in-person a This estimate is based on a voter registration file graciously provided to the Research Council by Practical Political Consulting, Inc. early voting would take place at designated voting sites. These sites would be required to operate the same way and be subject to the same requirements as polling places on Election Day. Similarly, voters at these sites would have the same rights and be subject to the same requirements (e.g., photo identification) that govern in-person voters casting their ballots on Election Day.

Under the proposal, all citizens would have access to early voting sites for at least nine consecutive days before Election Day. At a minimum, early voting polling sites would have to be open beginning on the second Saturday before Election Day and remain open through the Sunday before Election Day for at least eight hours each day. Local clerks could allow early voting sites in their jurisdictions to be open for additional days and/or hours at their discretion. All costs associated with operating early voting sites would be borne by local communities.

The proposal permits municipalities within the same county to share early voting sites. For example, neighboring cities would be allowed to coordinate and combine their efforts to offer in-person early voting for residents of the two municipalities. The proposal also allows an early voting site to serve voters from more than six precincts, the current limit for combining precincts for in-person voting. In such cases, a combined early voting site would not be subject to the statutory limit on the number of voters assigned to a precinct (2,999 registered voters).

Permissive Early Voting Provisions

It should be noted that Proposal 2 includes permissive powers granted to local governments responsible for conducting elections. These are not requirements. It allows local governments within the same county to contract with their county clerk to conduct early voting. Also, for non-statewide elections, local governments would be allowed to provide early, in-person voting. If a local government chooses to provide residents with an early voting option for a non-statewide election, it would be subject to the same early voting provisions for statewide and federal elections (e.g., minimum days/hours available for early voting).

Reporting Results

Importantly, the proposal prohibits state and local election officials from re- porting any results from early voting until after 8:00 pm on Election Day, the same time that in-person voting sites close. It should be noted that state and local election officials currently are prohibited from reporting preliminary results before 8:00 pm on Election Day.

Interstate Comparisons

Early voting is not a well-defined term across the United States and different states may use varying terminology to refer to this method of voting. Using a very expansive definition of the term, the U.S. Vote Foundation notes that Alabama and Oregon are the only two states that do not allow some form of early voting (Note: Oregon conducts its elections with mail ballots only). Twenty-four states, including Michigan, authorize in-person absentee voting. In Michigan, every qualified voter has a constitutional “right” to obtain an absentee ballot 40 days prior to the election. During this 40-day period, voters can pick up their absentee ballot from a local clerk’s office. The completed ballot may be submitted in person to the clerk or mailed in.

The type of in-person early voting that would be required in Michigan under Proposal 2, is available in 34 states. A handful of states allow both in-person absentee voting and in-person early voting. For example, Michigan’s neighboring states are a mixed lot in terms of early voting options for residents. Ohio allows both forms, while Indiana law authorizes in-person absentee voting and Illinois provides in-person early voting like what is being proposed for Michigan.

The details of how early voting works in each state vary considerably. For example, states set different lengths for their early voting periods with the average of 23 days among states that allow this method of casting ballots according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Similarly, there is variation across the states in terms of start/end dates for the early voting periods, as well as making in-person polling sites open during the weekend. Proposal 2 sets a minimum of nine days, for a minimum of eight hours per day, of early voting. But it also provides local clerks the discretion to extend the voting period, as well as expand the hours early voting sites are open for statewide elections held in their jurisdictions.

Other Provisions

Additional voting- and elections-related provisions are included as new subsections in Article II (Elections), Sections 4 (Place and Manner of Elections) and 7 (Boards of Canvassers). Some of the proposed new language is intended to further clarify existing provisions, including content added by the 2018 Pro[1]mote the Vote amendment. For example, it required audits of statewide election results, while Proposal 2 would clarify this requirement to grant audit authority exclusively to the Secretary of State with the assistance of county election officials. Further, it would prohibit members and officers of political parties from having a role in such audits. Another example of clarifying content is the proposed language for dealing with the roles and responsibilities of boards of canvassers, including the Board of State Canvassers. The language does not add to the powers or duties, nor does it change the fundamental structure or functioning, of these ministerial boards.

Canvassing Election Results

Perhaps to reinforce the fact that current Michigan law assigns these boards largely ministerial roles in conducting elections, Proposal 2 proposes to re-order Section 7; a new lead subsection (#1) states, “The outcome of every election in this state shall be determined solely by the vote of electors casting ballots in the election.” All the material that follows this new introductory language pertains to the roles and responsibilities of individual board members, as well as the boards themselves.

Breaking Ties

The proposed constitutional language would direct the bi-partisan, four-member Board of State Canvassers how to specifically resolve an election outcome where two or more candidates are tied. Currently, the process for breaking a tie vote spelled out in the Michigan Election Law requires the Board to first certify the result of the vote for a particular office and then requires the Michigan Legislature (in joint convention) to determine the winner of a tied election. The current process is not dissimilar to the U.S. Constitution provision that, if the Electoral College is unable to elect the president and vice-president, the election is decided by the U.S. House of Representatives.

By state law, the Board of State Canvassers is responsible for canvassing and certifying election results for President and Vice-President of the United States, state officers (e.g., governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state), U.S. senators, U.S. representatives, Michigan Supreme Court justices, court of appeals judges, circuit court judges, and state senators and representatives elected to a district located in more than one county. The Board is also responsible for canvassing and certifying statewide petitions, including constitutional amendments and other proposals placed before statewide voters. The Michigan Election Law authorizes boards of county canvassers to canvass and certify election results for those offices and petitions not subject to the Board of State Canvassers review.

Currently, the Board of State Canvassers uses a different process than county canvassers for determining the winner of any tied election. Proposal 2 would make the process consistent, regardless of the entity responsible for canvassing and certifying an election result. Under current state law, boards of county canvassers determine a winner of an election ending in a tie by “drawing lots”, basically picking a name out of a hat. The proposed language would require the Board of State Canvassers to also “draw lots” to resolve all ties for elections it is responsible for certifying.

Private Donations for Elections 

Proposed language for Section 4 would give authority to counties, cities, and townships to accept and use publicly disclosed charitable and in-kind donations to con[1]duct elections in their jurisdictions. This provision, generally, reflects current allowable procedures related to receiving in-kind and charitable assistance running elections. Local officials regularly rely on in-kind donations (e.g., polling space) by churches and other organizations to host elections. Local governments would have the sole decision-making authority whether to accept and use allowable private resources for election administration. Resources from a foreign entity would be prohibited. The language would add a requirement to disclose allowable contributions and donations as well as a prohibition for the receipt and use of such resources.

The provision is intended to thwart legislative efforts, including the Secure MI Vote petition, that would prohibit local clerks from accepting private funding and assistance to carry out elections. The primary motivation behind such a prohibition is related to the private financial assistance provided to local governments nationwide for the 2020 presidential election by a private nonprofit organization backed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Hundreds of Michigan local governments applied for, and received, grants from the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life to help them conduct the 2020 election. Supporters of the Secure MI Vote petition assert that this organization targeted Democratic cities to boost turnout. While such a prohibition, if adopted, would prevent local governments from receiving similar private grants, it would also bar them from accepting in-kind and charitable donations from churches and others.

Read the entire Citizens Research Council of Michigan Memorandum on Proposal 2 here.

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  • Laura Herberg
    Laura Herberg is a Reporter for 101.9 WDET, telling the stories about people inhabiting the Detroit region and the issues that affect us here.