Systems failure leads to election confusion and stalled road funding

Aug 21, 2013

Lily Tomlin and Oliver Cromwell have nothing in common, as far as I know.  But I thought of both this morning when I was considering the news from Detroit and Lansing.

Tomlin years ago came up with a perfect line to describe the latest twist in the Detroit elections mess.  “No matter how cynical you get, you can’t keep up.”

That was exactly the case when the Wayne County Board of Canvassers met to certify the totals in the Detroit mayoral primary election two weeks ago. There should have been no mystery about the results. Mike Duggan had been ruled off the ballot on a technicality, but won in a write-in landslide.  He got nearly twice as many votes as his closest competitor, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon. But Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett yesterday announced she was throwing out nearly half of Duggan’s votes, because poll workers merely recorded them, rather than make a hashtag mark next to them.

Not only did this cavalierly disenfranchise twenty thousand voters, it looks and smells highly suspect. Cathy Garrett is the sister of Al Garrett, a prominent union official who is one of Benny Napoleon’s biggest backers.

Now her decision would not have changed the lineup for the November runoff. It will still be between Duggan and Napoleon. But Garrett’s maneuver would have allowed Napoleon’s backers to claim he “won” a primary he actually lost.

But after attorneys for Mike Duggan howled foul, the Wayne County Board of Canvassers refused to certify the results, and kicked the whole issue upstairs to the state board of canvassers.

They have ten days to make a decision, or it will end up in the courts. As I noted the other day, there are reasons people say Wayne County is a corrupt, crony-ridden mess. 

Yesterday’s other government failure happened in Lansing, where a big issue has been our state’s crumbling roads. We need at least $1.2 billion dollars a year to fix them.

The governor sensibly proposed raising the money by a combination of gas tax hikes and car registration fees. But the legislature said no, mostly because they don’t want to be blamed by the voters for raising taxes, even a tax so vitally necessary.

Finally, they came up with a weasel solution. They would vote to put a sales tax increase on the ballot to pay for the roads.

Then, they could say to the voters, “well, you voted to raise your own taxes. You can’t blame us.” But now it looks like they are afraid to even do that. They can’t agree on a date to put it to the voters, because they fear they will be either blamed for the cost of holding a special election, or endangered if the sales tax question appears at the same time they are on the ballot.

So it looks like the roads will still continue to fall apart, while we pay millions for a representative government that neither really represents us or has the guts to make decisions.

In a similar circumstance back in the seventeenth century, Oliver Cromwell told a session of Parliament, “You have sat here too long for any good you’ve been doing; in the name of God, go!”

I think Michigan voters may know the feeling.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee the University of Michigan.