You know the holiday season has seriously kicked in when the Republicans in the Michigan House come bearing bags of coal, telling you it’s chocolate.
On Wednesday night, in a blatant pre-2016 campaign season first strike attack against the Democrats, the Republican-controlled legislature voted to eliminate straight ticket voting. Predictably, they said (trying desperately to maintain a straight face) that this was merely an attempt to encourage voters not to just blindly vote one way or the other, but to seriously study the candidates and the issues. By forcing them to vote for one candidate at a time, their stated belief is that this will somehow improve our democracy by transforming straight ticket voters into more knowledgeable and engaged voters.
There’s a rather potent word for what they’re actually doing here, but this is a family newspaper, so use your imagination and see if you can read my mind. As in, “this is some straight up…”
Keep in mind that this ‘gift’ is coming to you from the same beloved group of folks who are just dying to enshrine that wrong-headed Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision – perhaps one of the worst and most harmful and damaging decisions this court ever made – into Michigan law. But in case you forgot what that was all about, the Supreme Court overturned a ban on unlimited contributions by corporations and unions in 2010. They said that this was a violation of free speech, which led to numerous cynical comedy routines mocking how corporations are now considered people. One man, one vote. One corporation, one much bigger vote to smother that other pesky vote.
“As a result, super PACs, fueled with millions in donations, have blossomed across the country to try to influence elections,” wrote Kathleen Gray in the Detroit Free Press on Dec. 8.
Because it’s just not enough to make a mistake once and then leave it alone. Apparently these guys think good government amounts to pounding yourself in the head with a hammer over and over again just to make sure the old cranium is still firm.
So what does this mean for heavily Democratic (and heavily black) cities like Detroit? Well, the first thing it means is that voters need to be educated right quick and in a hurry that no roadblocks to the polls will be tolerated. If this means we have to stand in line longer next November, or mark a lot more boxes, then that’s what we’ll do because that’s how important 2016 is.
But the second, and more obvious, meaning of this new piece of legislation is that the Republicans are once again firing up the voter suppression machine. They know that heavily Democratic – and non-white – areas are much more likely to use straight ticket voting than Republican areas. According to Rick Pluta of Michigan Radio, and co-host of It’s Just Politics, if Gov. Snyder signs the bill now on his desk, the following will happen:
- It would eliminate the option that Michigan voters had to vote for candidates in one party by filling a single circle on the ballot.
- It would provide money for local governments to buy more voting machines.
- It would ensure that this legislation cannot be challenged via voter referendum.
Under the bill, voters would no longer be able to just check one box to vote straight Democrat or Republican. Voters would have to vote individually for each candidate.
Longtime political observer Jack Lessenberry says the following:
“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 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.”