Michigan State University trustees have delayed a vote on a controversial resolution that would have sought to curb some political activities of the university’s vendors tied to voter identification or what advocates called “voter suppression” efforts.
The “Accountability of University Vendors Funding Voter Suppression” resolution was removed from the board’s agenda on Thursday night and was not put up for a vote during the board’s Friday meeting as initially expected.
If passed, the resolution, sponsored by Democratic Trustees Rema Vassar and Kelly Tebay, would ask politically active vendors employed by the university to “take concrete steps to defeat the efforts to undermine our democracy.”
Some of those efforts could include reaching out to lawmakers to communicate “the importance of opposing voter suppression legislation” and for vendors “to align” their support of candidates who hold values that “support free and fair access to the democratic process.”
The resolution was targeted at the Secure Mi Vote initiative, a petition initiative that seeks stricter voter ID requirements, and other Republican-backed election integrity measures. Sponsors of the voter ID initiative turned in more than 500,000 signatures in late July that would require absentee voters to submit their driver’s license number, state personal ID number and the last four digits of their Social Security number. Those without photo ID at the polls would have to cast a provisional ballot and return within six days to verify their identities for their votes to count.
University spokeswoman Emily Guerrant confirmed Friday that the resolution was not brought up by the board during the meeting.
“Trustees are passionate about voting and encouraging people to vote,” said Dianne Byrum, board chair. “The resolution was pulled from today’s agenda because we didn’t want this to become a partisan issue.
“Removing the resolution today does not take away — for even a second — our passion and support for equal access to the ballot by all citizens, particularly our students, and Black, Brown and working-class individuals and families. “
Byrum added that she anticipates the board members will continue speaking out on any voter suppression efforts.
As board members delivered comments at the end of the meeting, multiple trustees referenced the resolution.
Democratic Trustee Brianna Scott said she was personally disappointed that the board didn’t move forward with the resolution, and apologized to anyone who had come to the meeting expecting the measure to be voted on.
“I’m sorry that we were unable to do that,” Scott said to the audience.
Scott said she was discouraged by comments made in a Detroit News opinion column that questioned whether passing the resolution could create problems for the university in securing funding from the Republican-led state Legislature.
She also expressed her continued support for the measure.
“I think anyone who supports people who purposely engage in activities that would make it harder for people to vote should be outed….I will support that to the day that I take my last breath,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, told The Detroit News about the resolution that “To the extent of my authority, I will not let this stand. This will cause us to immediately reevaluate the legitimacy of this university and its board of trustees.”
“We are not going to take this lying down,” Shirkey added. “The budget is an impactful process. This is why public universities should be defunded.”
Republican MSU Trustee Melanie Foster told The News before the meeting: “This is an implied ultimatum that you have to support the political agenda of the Democratic board members, or you can’t do business with the university.”
The MSU board has a 5-3 Democratic majority.
Other trustees spoke generally about the importance of MSUVote, a university initiative that promotes access to voting resources for students.
“As someone who was historically excluded from the ballot box… we need to think about how we are making sure everyone else has the same access,” said Trustee Renee Jefferson.
Republican Trustee Pat O’Keefe also expressed sentiments about the importance of the right to vote.
“Voting is an important right that we all have. … It’s a great responsibility but it’s also a great right,” he said.
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