The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, January 15, 2016

GOP, Snyder, toss out straight-ticket voting, invite more big money into state campaigns

By The Building Tradesman

Editor's note: IBEW Local 275 Business Manager Sean Egan, who is also president of the Kent-Ionia Labor Council, wrote this piece for the council in late December. It is updated to reflect that in early January, Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill eliminating straight-ticket voting, then signed legislation that stops public entities from using funds to support their own millages within 60 days of the election, while opening up rules to allow more wealthy donors access to the political process.

GRAND RAPIDS – When someone tells you that their goals are to ensure voters are more informed, while at the same time expanding political involvement of “dark money” and picking away at union rights — all in the name of strengthening democracy— you have to wonder what their real motivation is.

Here in Michigan there are a couple of new laws that received Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature that are nothing more than partisan efforts to block voting and increase wealthy donors’ access— through their dollars, not their speech— in Michigan elections.

First, our state legislature passed a bill to eliminate straight-ticket voting. Straight ticket voting allows a person to vote for all partisan candidates by simply selecting a party on their ballot. Voters still have to vote individually for non-partisan races (like judges) and ballot issues. This option for voters allows them to get through their ballots quicker.

Proponents claim this change will increase voter’s responsibility to research candidates in a non-partisan way to determine the best one for each race. They also claim that straight-party voting is a throwback to the old political days when political machines determined elections. Finally, they claim this bill is an effort to reduce partisanship in Michigan elections—I find this argument the most hilarious as this was a bill that passed strictly along party lines.

County clerks testified against this bill as they worry that increased wait times could deter voting, especially in urban centers with dense voter populations. Legislators tried to tie-bar (meaning both bills must pass or both fail) no-reason absentee voting in Michigan to alleviate some concern about wait times and expand access to voting. Unfortunately they decided to break the tie-bar and scrap no-reason absentee voting.

Eliminating the straight ticket option for people already choosing to vote with no actual expansion of the ability to vote is nothing more than an effort to block votes. Straight ticket voting is used by both major party voters as well as the few other parties. These voters obviously have done their research and have reached the conclusion that voting this way is the right choice.

I can’t stress this enough: the straight-ticket voting option only applies to someone who is already voting, so a straight ticket elimination alone can only be seen as an effort to thwart the ability to vote by ensuring longer lines, wait times, and votes for all candidates instead of perhaps a few.

Second, our Legislature adopted an expansion of Citizens United in Michigan to allow wealthy donors unlimited spending on Michigan campaigns while at the same time making it illegal for schools, counties, libraries and other bond millage promoters to inform the public within 60 days of the election.

So let’s start adding this up: 1) Eliminate a voting option that can only have the effect of making it more difficult to vote. 2) Allow unlimited and non-disclosed money from super PACs for Michigan elections. 3) Stop public entities from using funds to support their own millages within 60 days of the election— with no such provision for those super PACs— and continue passing laws that make it harder for workers’ unions to operate on behalf of those members. 4) And ignore polling that shows a large majority of self-described Republicans and Democrats don’t support any of this.

Looks like the score is: Michigan voters 0, Radical right wing 4. So who is buying/stealing our democracy and why does our legislature continue to support them? It’s probably time to start studying fascist governments, as we seem to be quite a ways down that road.