Michigan citizens voted on much more than
who would administer the three branches of government on Nov. 2:
They passed ballot initiatives that require voter approval for all
new casinos not on Native American reservations and a ban on
same-sex marriages and civil unions. This page remains in
opposition of these initiatives and realizes that there is a larger
issue at hand: the increasing misuse of ballot initiatives by
wealthy interests to circumvent the legislative process.

Angela Cesere

One hundred years ago, when corporate interests were swaying the
government’s decisions, progressives and populists
implemented popular ballot initiatives — laws that would be
written by the people and passed by the people. These initiatives
would avoid politicians and their donors in the legislative and
executive branches of government. The ideal of such initiatives was
noble: to return the power of making laws to the people.

Unfortunately, ballot initiatives have been corrupted by the
wealthy. Proposal 1 proponents obtained $14 million, mostly from
existing casinos, and Proposal 2 proponents received $1.2 million,
mostly from the Catholic Church. These two measures passed in part
because the funds their proponents had at their disposal were more
than double what their opponents raised.

Voter initiatives usually require initial support through
signatures. While this used to ensure grass-roots politicking, it
has now become easy for the wealthy to hire firms to gather the
signatures. Voters are then deceived into believing that by signing
these petitions they are only helping the initiative get on the
ballot and are not made aware that a signature is essentially a
pledge of agreement with the belief or issue.

The signature-collection process is only the beginning of the
deception as the actual initiatives are constructed in a fashion so
vague that few people can understand them. Proposal 1, which
requires voter approval of new gambling initiatives, was written in
a manner that confuses even those affected by it. While the
proposal installs “voter approval of any form of gambling
authorized by law and certain new state lottery games,” the
proposal’s proponents — the three main casinos in
Detroit and several Indian casinos — excluded themselves from
such voter approval. The nearly $20 million spent on the issue did
not address these problems and left voters ill-informed.

That voters are forced to choose between options they do not
know much about highlights the root of the problem. Voter
initiatives work best when used to measure the citizens’
vision on issues they understand. Ann Arbor’s Proposal C,
which simply asked whether “the Charter be amended to require
waiver of fines and costs upon proof that the defendant has a
recommendation of a physician, practitioner or other qualified
health professional to use or provide marijuana or cannabis for
medical treatment,” was written in simple terms that lacked
loopholes. This type of initiative — run at a local level
with little funding — is what was originally envisioned.
Until we can return this clarity of purpose and intent to statewide
proposals, ballot initiatives will continue to be dubious,
potentially dangerous tools in the hands of determined special
interests.

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