With the onset of the novel coronavirus, our entire world was in a state of flux, and the work of Voters Not Politicians was immediately impacted. We saw, along with voting rights advocates nationwide, that during the COVID-19 pandemic, we would likely need all-hands-on-deck to take concerted action at the federal, state, and local levels to ensure our elections are safe and secure. We also evaluated a potential role for VNP in ensuring our elections went on as scheduled in a way that protected both voter access and public health. We launched our VoteSafe campaign to draw on our vast grassroots network to help as many people as possible vote absentee, working to leave polling places and clerks’ offices free of crowding for those voting in-person, and to pressure our lawmakers to act urgently to protect voters.
With the passage of Proposal 3 in 2018, every Michigan voter has a constitutional right to vote absentee for any reason, but the Legislature has not taken additional actions needed to ensure voters have safe and secure access to the ballot at home. Despite the constitutional mandate, there are many financial and legislative hurdles preventing Michiganders from fully exercising their right to vote absentee.
VNP volunteers have been calling our legislators through our Dial for Democracy program to demand action on voting access. VNP also decided to go one step farther to understand and identify legislative lawmakers and candidates who support the goals of the VoteSafe campaign. We created a VoteSafe questionnaire that was sent out in early May to all sitting members of the Michigan Legislature and to all candidates in 110 House Districts (there are no state Senate races this year). The questionnaire asked for responses to the following questions:
- Do you support a process where the State of Michigan mails every registered voter a ballot for the August and November 2020 elections?
- Do you support state appropriations to fund vote by mail as defined above in Michigan for the August and November 2020 elections?
- Do you support the State of Michigan providing additional funding to municipalities to expand access to clerks’ offices in the days and hours leading up to and on Election Day for the August and November 2020 elections?
- Will you publicly support a vote-by-mail process as defined by VNP in Michigan for the August and November 2020 elections?
- (For candidates) If elected, will you support vote by mail and expanded access to clerks’ offices to make voting safe, fair, and convenient for Michigan voters beyond 2020?
We received responses from members of both major parties.
Members of the VoteSafe Approval Committee included three Voters Not Politicians volunteers and three staff members. Our job was to identify VoteSafe proponents through their questionnaire responses. We also considered past voting records (if available), and support for other pro-democracy reforms. As the committee began to examine the legislative landscape, our first goal was to lay out the criteria that would provide the basis for VoteSafe approval decisions. The criteria includes the following:
- Fully or mostly positive questionnaire responses
- No past or current opposition to redistricting reform or other relevant pro-democracy policies
- If more than one person in a district met the above criteria, the committee considered other publicly available information
- If no decision could be made with respect to a particular person based on currently available information, the committee will re-evaluate as more information becomes available.
After careful review and analysis by the VoteSafe Approval Committee, VNP has announced a total of 42 sitting legislators and candidates who share the goals of the VoteSafe Campaign and are deemed VoteSafe Approved.
VoteSafe approvals align with some of VNP’s short and long-term goals to expand voting access. These approvals offer the public a clear way to identify lawmakers who are both pro-voting and pro-public health. This project also helped VNP identify legislative partners who are willing to meet the urgent goals of the VoteSafe campaign as well as future pro-democracy policy efforts.
VoteSafe Approval Committee members include:
- Naomi Siegel Morse, VNP volunteer
- Sherri Dansby, VNP volunteer
- Robert Logan, VNP volunteer
- Jamie Lyons-Eddy, Campaigns & Programs Director
- Kim Murphy-Kovalick, Field Director
- Miles Baker, Advisor