The Michigan Democratic Party yesterday endorsed a petition drive to let voters decide whether to eliminate the ability to choose completely Democratic or Republican candidates with one vote.

Straight-ticket voting has been allowed in Michigan elections since 1891. Public Act 269, enacted on Jan. 11, would keep voters from using straight-ticket ballots in November elections, unless enough signatures are collected to put the issue on the ballot.

“There”s no recorded complaints, and 40 percent of voters use it,” said MDP Chair Mark Brewer.

The referendum “stays the implementation of the act until the voters can vote on it statewide,” said Bill Ballenger, editor of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics. “It buys more time and gives the possibility that the act is overturned by the people.”

If the MDP records 152,000 valid signatures before March 21 and the referendum is accepted by the four-member Board of Canvasses, Michiganders will vote on Public Act 269. But the bi-partisan board must approve the referendum by a majority.

Supporters said that filling out long ballots often deters voters from finishing, and that voters should have the right to easily vote straight-ticket.

“When they changed the law in Illinois, there was more voter drop-off and confusion,” Brewer said. He added that the MDP has endorsed the petition drive in “defending the right of voters.”

“The Democrats have aligned themselves in the anti-election reform camp with this petition drive,” said Jason Brewer, spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party.

Critics of straight-ticket voting say it encourages voter drop-off. The majority of states allow straight-ticket voting.

Non-partisan elections, such as judiciary or University regents, receive significantly lower votes than the partisan elections included in a straight party vote.

“Eliminating straight-ticket voting will hopefully encourage people to vote in all elections,” Jason Brewer said. He added that there was a one million-voter drop-off for judiciary elections in the presidential elections.

Ballenger said the fate of Public Act 269 lies across party lines because it is widely held that more Democrats benefit from straight-ticket voting than Republicans.

“The bottom line is whether more Democrats will be discouraged from voting than Republicans,” said Ballenger.

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