Michigan Legislature Sends Bill Permitting Paid Voter Transportation to Governor

UPDATE: On Nov. 7, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed the bill into law.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, Oct. 24, the Michigan Senate passed legislation that would overturn an 1891 law that makes it a misdemeanor to hire transportation to take voters to the polls unless they are physically unable to walk. 

The bill has already passed the Michigan House of Representatives, and now heads to the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who is expected to sign the legislation.  

The ban also prohibits rideshare companies, like Uber and Lyft, from providing free or discounted rides to the polls on Election Day. Michigan is the only state in the country with a strict law that criminalizes third-party transportation of voters, and Uber has previously said the company offered the rides to voters in every other state in the country, but could not in Michigan as a result of the ban. 

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) praised the passage of the bill in a statement, describing the ban as discriminatory and arguing that it “unfairly restricted the voting rights of seniors, people with disabilities, young voters, and anyone with transportation challenges.”

The arcane law criminalizing voter transportation has been subject to multiple legal challenges. A 2019 lawsuit filed by Priorities USA, Rise, Inc. and a local chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute alleged that the ban creates an unreasonable burden on the right to vote in violation of the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act (VRA). 

In September 2020, a district court temporarily blocked the law, but after Republicans appealed the decision, voters were unable to utilize paid transportation during the 2020 election while the appeal was considered. In July 2021, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the district court decision, and a federal judge ultimately ruled against the plaintiffs, determining that the ban did not violate the First and 14th Amendments nor the VRA.

A new lawsuit challenging the ban was filed in August, arguing that the law violates the fundamental right to vote enshrined in the Michigan Constitution. That right stems from Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by Michiganders in the 2022 midterm elections that strengthens mail-in voting and early voting and defends against attacks on the democratic process.

The Michigan Alliance for Retired Americans, Detroit Disability Power, Michigan Clergy Connects, Priorities USA and a burdened voter filed the complaint, claiming the ban hinders get-out-the-vote efforts and is especially burdensome to senior voters, young voters, voters with disabilities and low income voters who comparatively struggle to obtain transportation.

Read the bill here. 

Read about the 2019 lawsuit here.

Read about the 2023 lawsuit here.