“Shall the Charter be amended to replace the requirement that the Mayor and Council Members be registered electors in the City at the time of election and tat Council Members be residents in their wards for one year prior to their election, with a requirement that the Mayor and Council Members be registered electors of the City, and the Council Members of their wards, on the date they are elected or appointed to office, to require that volunteer appointed officers be residents rather than registered electors in the City, and to eliminate the requirement that paid appointed officers be registered electors?”
– Ann Arbor City Ballot Proposal A
Confusing, huh? In order to rein in the excesses and corruption characteristic of the era of industrialization, members of the Progressive movement enacted reforms across society intended to give citizens more control over the workings of government. One of the movement’s achievements was the ballot initiative, which allows voters to enact law through the voting booth. Too often, however, these ballot initiatives are worded in a deliberately confusing fashion that only a relatively small percentage of voters make well-informed decision.
With Ann Arbor City Council elections approaching, voters must decide whether to approve two such proposals. Proposal A, which is above, regards the requirements for elected and volunteer appointed offices, and Proposal B asks voters to approve the Greenbelt project for preservation and protection of parkland and open spaces around the city.
A few voters may have the time and ability to decipher the meaning of Proposal A, and they will therefore have a tremendous influence over the proposal’s outcome. But what about the other voters who only have an hour break from work to vote, who vote in between classes or those who have to pick up their children up from school?
The intention of the Progressives was to increase the level of American democracy in the political system. The confusing nature of ballot initiatives often leads to the opposite outcome. An elite group of voters has undue sway over the vote. Unfortunately, this elite typically does not include poor and minority voters.
Proposal A is relevant to many of these demographics and to University students. It would change residency requirements for both appointed and elected city officials. Because students may be only temporary Ann Arbor residents and they change residences frequently, these changes apply in large part to them. A cursory reading of the proposal, however, would not give students a full appreciation of the proposal’s significance.
Proposal B, though a bit more comprehensible, is an amendment regarding the Greenbelt project. The land being discussed is land that children may grow up playing on or land from which wildlife thrives.
Those who write ballot initiatives should simplify the language of the proposals to ensure that government is representative of its citizens and true to the Progressives’ intent.