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Republicans in Michigan show their contempt for democracy

Dec 16, 2015

You expect politicians to do things to give their side partisan advantage, up to a point. Democrats would certainly draw congressional and legislative district boundaries to help them win more seats, if they had a chance. That’s how the game is played.

But this year, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and his disciple, Senate Elections Chair Dave Robertson, have been shockingly open in not only their drive to make it harder to vote, but in showing utter contempt for the will of the people.

They are about to ram a pair of bills through which they know Michiganders don’t want, and they are cheerfully rigging the process to make sure we can’t repeal them.

First of all, you should know that most Republicans absolutely do not want to make it easier for people to vote.

They know that in most cases, the more people vote, the better Democrats do.

They also know that in most cases, more Democrats vote a straight ticket than Republicans. That’s why the Dems won eight out of nine statewide education board seats last year. So it is not surprising that Meekhof and Robertson pushed through a bill to prevent people from checking a box and voting a straight ticket.

Of course, they are blatantly lying about why they are doing this.

They say voters should take time to study each race on the ballot, so that they can make informed choices about every contest. They know if people ever did that it would mean we’d stand in line for days. If they really wanted people to cast informed votes, they switch to a vote-by-mail system, the way they do in Oregon.

That’s the last thing Republicans want.

They just hope Democrats who are not allowed to vote a straight ticket just ignore the lesser-profile races way down on the ballot.

By the way, a similar effort is going on in Kansas – but with a twist.

Kansas doesn’t have straight ticket voting – but there, Republicans want to bring it back! Unlike Michigan, Kansas is a solidly Republican state, and the GOP feels they’d win more races that way.

Michigan is exactly the opposite.

But here’s the really underhanded thing Republicans here are doing. They know voters don’t want to lose this right. Twice before, Republicans have outlawed straight ticket voting – and each time, citizens have overturned their action with a statewide ballot initiative, so Republicans are attaching an unnecessary token appropriation to this bill, because under the Michigan Constitution, that takes away voters’ ability to repeal any bill.

That rule exists, by the way, to protect the budget process.

Using it to stifle the people’s will is a clear perversion of the Constitution’s intent, and Meekhof and Robertson couldn’t care less.

They are doing something else equally underhanded; the House passed straight ticket voting only under the condition that we tie it to a bill making it easier for voters to get absentee ballots as well.

Yesterday, Meekhof said he intends to separate these two bills, because he wants to make it harder, not easier, to vote absentee.

Our only hope is that the House refuses to go along, or that the governor has the courage to stand up for democracy and veto these bills. In any event, we’ll soon see.

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.