Detroit 3 execs join voting rights debate in Michigan

Top executives at the Detroit 3 and other Michigan business leaders have waded into the national debate over voting rights in the face of tighter restrictions signed into law in Georgia and new rules proposed in Michigan by Republican lawmakers.

On Tuesday, 37 CEOs and chairmen of some of the state’s largest companies released a joint statement outlining broad principles they believe should be followed as Michigan lawmakers debate changes to election laws.

“Government must avoid actions that reduce participation in elections — particularly among historically disenfranchised communities, persons with disabilities, older adults, racial minorities and low-income voters,” the statement reads. “Government has a responsibility to continuously improve and strengthen election administration, because public faith in the security and integrity of our elections is fundamental.”

The list of signatories to the statement includes Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Farley, General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Stellantis North American head Mike Manley and Penske Corp. Chairman Roger Penske.

The executives did not take a stand against any particular legislation.

But the statement comes amid growing national pressure on corporate leaders to push back on efforts largely led by Republicans in statehouses to put new restrictions on voting in place in the aftermath of the 2020 elections, which were marred by unproven claims by former President Donald Trump of widespread voter fraud.

Nearly 40 bills seeking to overhaul the way elections are administered and restrict voter access to ballots have been recently introduced in the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature.

Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser recently said Republicans will launch a campaign to gather signatures for voter-initiated laws to bypass Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Democrats have threatened to launch a counter signature-gathering campaign and possibly put the issue on the ballot in 2022.

In 2018, Democrats won the offices of governor, attorney general and secretary of state as voters overwhelmingly approved constitutional amendments allowing for any voter to cast an absentee ballot and making it easier to register to vote.

Some of the bills introduced by Senate Republicans seek to rein in absentee voting by requiring voters to submit a copy of their photo identification in order to obtain an absentee ballot by mail. Senate Bill 285 would let voters without photo ID cast a provisional ballot “that is subject to verification and will not be tabulated on election day,” according to the legislation.

Republicans also want to outlaw Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s unsolicited distribution of absentee ballot applications to every voter, a move she made in 2020 to make it easier to obtain an absentee ballot and not have to go to the polls on Election Day during the coronavirus pandemic.

The statement from the 37 Michigan business leaders called for both parties to work together instead of taking separate routes.

“Election laws must be developed in a bipartisan fashion to preserve public confidence in our elections and to preserve the values of democracy.

Barra issued a statement Tuesday morning ahead of hearings the state House and Senate are beginning this week on some of the election law bills.

“We are calling on Michigan lawmakers and state legislatures across the nation to ensure that any changes to voting laws result in protecting and enhancing the most precious element of democracy — the right for all eligible voters to have their voices included in a fair, free, and equitable manner,” Barra said. “Anything less falls short of our inclusion and social justice goals.”

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