LANSING - Legislation that would place new restrictions on voter registration has passed the Senate.
The bills, aimed at stopping potential voter fraud, would require a photo ID or birth certificate to register to vote. It would also create rules for groups that register voters.
Senate Republicans say the measure is necessary to combat voter fraud, but Democrats and some advocacy groups argue it could block voters' access to the polls.
"There is a concern about voter fraud and registration issues," said Erika Farley, chief of staff to Grand Blanc Republican Sen. David Robertson. "We want safe and secure elections and to make sure the vote is protected."
Sen. Coleman Young II, D-Detroit, expressed concern that the proposed rules would make it more difficult for voters to register.
"We are putting new hurdles in the way of voting registration," Young said. "We are missing an opportunity to make our voting system simpler and better. Instead, we are making it more complex and harder."
Several groups, including the League of Women Voters of Michigan, AARP Michigan and the ACLU of Michigan, oppose the legislation, claiming voter ID requirements disproportionately impede elderly, low-income, minority and younger voters.
Mark Hornbeck, associate communications director for AARP, said he expects to see decreased turnout among older voters since one in five older voters do not have a photo ID.
"They've been voting for years and, all of a sudden, they have a new hurdle they may not have even known about before Election Day," Hornbeck said.
"Michigan already meets federal standards in terms of elections," Hornbeck said. "It's a solution in search of a problem."
But Farley said the legislation is "absolutely not intended to depress turnout" and that the new identification requirements would not have a negative effect on registration.
"There is a study from the Secretary of State that shows that 96 percent of people who are eligible to vote are already registered," Farley said. "This shouldn't have an effect on voter turnout."
Senate approval of the measure coincided with a research report that found one in eight voter registrations in the United States contain significant errors.
According to the Pew Center on the States, 24 million voter registrations contain errors, including 1.8 million dead people still registered and 2.7 million citizens registered in multiple states.
Part of the Senate package deals with the issue of erroneous registrations by allowing the Secretary of State to create an "inactive voter file." Voters determined to have moved out of the state or who haven't voted in six consecutive years would be considered inactive and their absentee ballot could be challenged.
"If someone leaves the state and goes to Florida, they're often automatically registered to vote," Farley said. "What this legislation does is make sure if someone moves to another state, the Secretary of State would be notified and could take them off the list.
"This gives us a chance to make sure voting rolls are clean," Farley said.
The legislation would also place new limitations on groups that register voters, requiring anyone who signs up multiple voters to apply to the state and undergo training.
Critics argue that provision would impose an unnecessary burden on registration efforts.
"We've been registering voters for 90 years," said League of Women Voters President Sue Smith. "We've got volunteers all over the state, so it would be difficult, in terms of time and distance, to send them for training."
The legislation is pending in the Republican-controlled House.