Tuition, tax dollars funding extremist lawmakers who back voter suppression efforts that will affect Black, low-income, student voters
On Thursday, September 22, activists with the Defend Black Voters coalition urged the University of Michigan Board of Regents to take action to protect Michiganders’ access to fair elections. Many of their vendors support the PACs and politicians behind voter suppression efforts like the so-called Secure MI Vote initiative. Chief among such companies are Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) and Delta Dental of Michigan, top corporate contributors despite having made public claims in support of democracy for all and racial justice.
“Ironically, Blue Cross and Delta Dental have issued strong racial justice statements, and the Blue Cross CEO signed a joint statement against the very voter suppression bills that were then compiled into the Secure MI voter suppression initiative,” said Eboni Taylor, Executive Director of Mothering Justice and Defend Black Voters Steering Committee member. “Yet Blue Cross is the single largest corporate contributor to the legislators pushing Jim Crow-style voter suppression in Michigan. Defending Black lives and investing in our communities means they must do more than issue a generic statement or change their social media page to a black square. ”
BCBSM (including non-individual affiliated entities) is the number one corporate contributor to the 79 extremist lawmakers backing voter suppression, giving $837,000 directly and through political committees. If the signatures submitted by the so-called Secure MI Vote initiative pass muster with the Bureau of Elections, these lawmakers would be poised to enact voting restrictions that, by design, disproportionately hinder access to the ballot for Black and low-income Michiganders. Students, who more frequently vote absentee, will also be disproportionately impacted by the barriers that this initiative would create to absentee voting.
“At this critical moment, silence is complicity, and we’re asking the Board of Regents to take a bold stand as an important voice in our community–to use the resources and influence that you have available to help hold these corporations accountable to stop funding those attacking our civil rights,” said Pastor Jeff Harold of the Washtenaw Regional Organizing Coalition. “If U of M isn’t prepared to use its voice - what message are you sending to your students and our community?”
Earlier this month, the Michigan State University Board of Trustees considered a resolution that would have called on its vendors to align their political and financial support of candidates and office holders with their professed values to support free and fair access to the democratic process. But after Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey suggested he would defund public universities in a Detroit News column, the motion was tabled. However, after public pressure from the Defend Black Voters coalition, several trustees spoke out on the issues addressed in the resolution and will have another chance to pass it in October.
In a Michigan Daily op-ed, State Senator Erika Geiss reminded regents that Sen. Shirkey’s influence on any university budget will not matter as he will no longer be in office due to term limits. “The University of Michigan Board of Regents can still stand up for their principles and push back against this bully and thinly veiled threats that hold no substance by taking a stand on voting rights,” Geiss said. “The Regents will hopefully remember that the harm caused to Black, brown and working-class people if Secure MI Vote becomes law will also be visited upon the student body who predominantly have the need to vote absentee.”