Many voters will have to spend slightly more time at the polls if the state Senate approves the abolition of straight-ticket voting this week.
A bill proposed by Sen. Bill Bullard (R-Highland Twp.) would remove the ability of voters to automatically vote for all candidates from one party by simply punching a hole or connecting a line.
Bullard”s proposal has drawn heavy criticism from Democrats, who say the bill is an attempt to reduce voter turnout and consequently help Republicans in the next election. Republicans say the change will force voters to make more informed decisions about whom they vote for, rather than blindly voting for all candidates of one party or another.
“We should be educating the voters and saying to the voters, “You must be responsible for the races and who you vote for,”” Bullard said.
But Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer said the state GOP”s motives are more about politics than voter education.
“The Republicans are simply doing this to create longer lines at the polls and discourage people from voting,” he said.
Brewer said the legislation is especially aimed at discouraging minorities, who usually vote Democratic, from voting. Residents of Detroit, which is predominantly black, vote an automatic straight-party ticket about 80 percent of the time, compared to 40 percent in the rest of the state, he said.
The legislation, he said, will cause longer lines at polling places, thus creating more confusion for voters and decreasing turnout.
Bullard countered that argument, saying, “It”s the job of local clerks to predict how many people are voting and get the appropriate number of machines” so there aren”t long lines.
Supporters of Bullard”s bill say the proposed reform will especially force voters to look at the non-partisan races, such as judgeships. People automatically voting for one party mistakenly assume they are also voting for those offices, they say.
In addition, state GOP spokesman Jason Brewer said voters can still vote for all candidates from one party, the only inconvenience being that they have to make several marks on the ballot, not just one.
“People still have a right to vote a straight Democratic or Republican ticket,” he said.
Washtenaw County Clerk Peggy Haines, a Republican and former president of the Michigan Association of County Clerks, opposes the bill. She said it will make the act of voting harder.
“It”s hard to support any initiative that bogs down the election process,” she said. “Even with a long history of straight party ballots, we (in Michigan) have a track record of splitting our votes anyway.”
Voters can override an automatic straight-ticket by voting for individual candidates of an opposing party.
Bullard”s proposal was already approved by the Senate, but since it was amended in the House, the bill, with minor alterations, was sent back to the Senate. Aaron Keesler, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow (R-Port Huron), said he believes the bill will most likely be brought up for a vote this week, just before the Legislature begins a month-long recess.
LSA senior Chinelo Amen-Ra, who voted for all Democratic candidates but did not use the straight-ticket option on last year”s ballot, said he was opposed to the proposal.
“That may deter some people from filling in the bubbles. They might vote for president and that”s it,” Amen-Ra.