Democratic chances of finally winning a majority in the Michigan House of Representatives got a lot stronger Wednesday. Republican chances of winning new seats on the state board of education got considerably weaker.
And that’s because a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously denied a Republican request to reinstate the law that prevents voters from casting a straight ticket ballot.
This is a nakedly partisan issue.
Republicans want to make it as hard as possible for Democratic-leaning voters to cast their ballots, and hope those who do won’t finish them.
They care nothing about democracy, fairness, or the people’s will. They outlawed straight-ticket voting this year despite clear indications that people want that option. We know that, because Republicans have outlawed straight-ticket voting before, twice.
Both times angry voters collected signatures, and forced a referendum overturning those laws.
This time, cynical Republicans attached a token phony appropriation to the bill, which legally prevents voters from holding a referendum to repeal it. This is a blatant abuse of a portion of the Michigan constitution designed to protect the state budget process from being paralyzed.
Republicans are worried this fall because most of them think Donald Trump is going to lose this state in November, and lose it big. Democrats have carried Michigan in the last six presidential elections, and polls show Hillary Clinton well ahead now.
Eight years ago, President Obama won here by more than 16 points. Democrats gained 13 seats and a majority in the state house.
That’s what Republicans fear.
Additionally, Democrats have been winning most of the education seats even when the vote is more evenly split, because more voters in places like Detroit and Flint fill in just one oval to vote the straight Democratic ticket, no matter what. Most of those straight-ticket voters are African-Americans who feel that the Republican Party has nothing to offer them.
Republicans know they will never prevent blacks voting Democratic, but they hope by preventing straight ticket voting they will cause many to not bother to vote for many of the down-ballot offices, like board of education and maybe even state representative.
What’s also clear is that outlawing straight ticket voting would cause huge lines at the polls, because it would take much longer for everyone to cast their votes.
That could cause some folks not to be able to vote at all.
That would be just fine with Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and Senate elections committee chair Dave Robertson. They have blocked every attempt to make it easier for people to get absentee ballots, and have no interest in allowing early voting, as many other states do.
Well, their unfairness caught up with them this summer. A U.S. District Judge in Detroit ruled outlawing straight ticket voting would place a disproportionate burden on African-American voters, and yesterday, three appellate judges unanimously agreed.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is among the most partisan Republicans, isn’t giving up.
He is filing an emergency appeal asking all the appellate judges in the sixth circuit to overturn the ruling in time for the November election. But the odds are against him.
Americans should have the right to vote any way they want to. It’s too bad that some of our leaders refuse to recognize that.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.