Straight ticket voting ban passes legislature

Friday, December 18, 2015 - 5:49pm

As the end of the legislative session nears, the Michigan legislature sent a bill to Governor Rick Snyder (R) Wednesday to eliminate straight ticket voting.

Though SB 13 was originally tied to another bill that would have allowed for individuals to vote absentee in the state without needing to give a specific reason, the tie was removed Tuesday evening in the state Senate.

Straight ticket voting allows voters to vote for a single party for every candidate by selecting one box at the top of the ballot. Forty other states have already banned this option.  

A similar bill was enacted in Michigan in 2002, but repealed by voters in a referendum later that year. If signed into law, SB 13 could not be subject to a referendum vote because it is tied to an allocation of funding for new voting machines

The vote on the bill, introduced by state Sen. Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy), was largely along party lines, passing the Republican-controlled legislature with a vote of 24-12 in the Senate and 54-41 in the House.

Knollenberg did not reply to an interview request. Supporters of the bill have pointed to reducing partisanship, as well as encouraging voters to do research, as reasons for the ban.  

Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor), who voted against the bill, said he thought the removal of straight-ticket voting would cause longer lines at polling booths, deterring voters in urban areas where lines are already lengthy.

“The long lines at the polls is a phenomenon that happens in urban areas, and those urban areas are predominately democratic,” he said. “They also happen in areas with large communities of color where there are larger numbers of voters per precinct with less poll workers and booths per voter. Any careful observer of politics knows the African American community is very Democratic, so making the lines longer is an obvious benefit to the Republican Party.”

Looking at how the policy change could affect the University, Irwin said he thought the GOP felt straight ticket voting has a significant influence on candidates at the end of the ballot like the University’s Board of Regents, which is currently composed of six Democrats and two Republicans.

In an e-mail interview, Regent Andrea Fischer-Newman (R) wrote that she thought the bill would force regents to work harder to gain name-recognition. 

"It will most likely help Republicans in Democratic districts and vice versa," she wrote. "As far as students... That will depend on how many students will vote in Michigan elections, and how hard the student government and individual campaigns will push to encourage students to vote."

State governing bodies for secondary and higher education are currently one of the few exceptions to Republican control among Michigan’s state government, which Irwin also said could be a motivation for the bill.

“The strategic play by the Republicans here is the Democrats have been able to do very well on the State Education Board and the Board of Regents,” Irwin said. “A larger number of Democrats vote straight ticket than Republicans. It’s not that large of a difference, but because the participation at the bottom of the ballot is so low, those straight ticket votes have been adding up to a pretty big number.”

In response to this bill’s passing, various groups have called upon Governor Rick Snyder (R), including the Michigan branch of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, Progress Michigan and the League of Women Voters.

In a press release, AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber said the bill opposed democracy and made it unnecessarily difficult for people to vote.

"Governor Snyder should do the right thing and veto this anti-democratic legislation,” he said. “Instead of making it harder to vote, lawmakers should go back to the drawing board and focus on making it easier for people to vote, by passing laws that allow no-reason absentee voting, early voting and same-day registration.”

Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, echoed Bieber’s sentiments about the lack of respect for democracy represented in the bill.

“Once again, we can count on Lansing Republicans to play fast and loose with the constitution,” Scott said in a press release. "If Governor Snyder has even a sliver of respect for democracy he will veto this bill immediately."