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Wayne State University Governor Barnhill Calls for Voting Rights Resolution

Measure backed by Defend Black Voters calls on vendors to stop funding extremist lawmakers who back voter suppression efforts that will affect Black, low-income, student voters

Wayne State University Governor Bryan Barnhill II has voiced support for a resolution backed by Defend Black Voters to protect Michiganders’ access to fair elections to the rest of the board. The measure would call on Wayne State University vendors to end their support of extremist lawmakers backing the so-called Secure MI Vote voter suppression effort. 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 voting rights and racial justice.

“I ran for the Wayne State Board of Governors in 2018 because this is an institution that matters to my community. By serving this great institution, I serve my people.” Barnhill said in a statement. “What I didn’t become a governor for is to stand idly by while Wayne State dollars fund the extremist politicians trying to make it harder for my community to vote. I can’t be silent on this.” While the board declined to take up the proposal at their Friday meeting, representatives of the Defend Black Voters coalition spoke passionately to the Wayne State Governors.

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.

“This thinly-veiled effort, which the legislature could vote on by the end of the year, uses the Big Lie as an excuse to push a set of voter restrictions designed to make it disproportionately harder for Black and low-income Michiganders to exercise their freedom to vote,” said Scott Holiday with Detroit Action during public comment to the board. “In December 2021, we asked the six largest corporate funders of the extremist Michigan state lawmakers backing voter suppression to back up their publicly stated positions on voting rights and racial justice. Those corporations include two major vendors for Wayne State: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Delta Dental of Michigan.”

Earlier this month, the Michigan State University Board of Trustees considered a similar resolution, but after GOP Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey threatened to defund public universities in a Detroit News column, the motion was tabled. And this week, GOP State Senator Kim LaSata introduced her own resolution opposing such actions at public universities to protect voting rights. Political contributions to Shirkey and LaSata, both of whom back the voter suppression effort, are under scrutiny by the resolution in question.

“We are asking you to take a stand against university dollars going to support those who are attacking the freedom to vote for Black and low-income Michiganders, even if the attackers’ motivations are partisan,” said Aqeela Muntaqim of the Mothering Justice Action fund. “The Wayne State Governors have an opportunity to take a principled stand for Michigan’s democracy.”

The so-called “Secure” MI Vote initiative stands in stark contrast to the bipartisan election reforms passed Wednesday. “The DBV coalition congratulates Democrats and Republicans for coming together and passing election reforms that increase access to the ballot,” said Ken Whittaker, Executive Director, Michigan People's Campaign. “Importantly, while the 2020 election has proven to be the most secure on record, we appreciate that the reasonable election security measures included in this bill do not create racially disparate barriers to voting. After the passage of these reforms, we are encouraging lawmakers to show that they aren’t simply looking for an excuse to make it harder for Black and low-income Michiganders to vote by renouncing the so-called ‘Secure’ MI Vote initiative.”

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