Michigan GOP scheming to make it harder for voters to change bad laws


Ballot measures let voters have a say, and Republicans in Michigan don't like that.

Throughout 2018, Michigan voters used the power of ballot initiatives to back progressive goals. More than 380,000 people signed a petition to get a paid sick leave measure on the ballot. And more than 370,000 people signed a separate petition to get a measure on the ballot that would raise Michigan's minimum wage.

But the Michigan GOP made sure those measures didn't get on the ballot, passing their own versions of the laws only so they could water them down later during the lame-duck session.

Three more progressive initiatives — one legalizing marijuana, one creating an independent redistricting commission, and one strengthening voting rights — did appear on the 2018 ballot. In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, the Michigan GOP wants to make ballot initiatives much harder.

James Lower, a GOP representative, introduced a bill with three key provisions. First, it would require people circulating ballot petitions to say if they are being paid to collect signatures. Next, it would invalidate any signatures from a petition circulator if that person misled people about the proposal. Finally, it would cap signatures by district so that no more than 10% of the initiative's signatures could come from any one of the state's congressional districts.

Ostensibly, said Lower, this will strengthen grassroots lawmaking by increasing transparency. It's unclear how grassroots lawmaking is strengthened by making it harder for grassroots initiatives to make it on the ballot. Additionally, there's no evidence that there was any lack of transparency or misleading communication about any of the ballot proposals.

While the insinuation that special interests are lying to Michigan voters about ballot proposals is bad enough, it's the signature-cap provision that is the most damaging. By capping signatures per congressional district, the bill is targeted at minimizing the influence of residents of Michigan's largest city, Detroit. Also, Michigan is heavily gerrymandered, which means that progressive voters are packed into a few districts. This bill would ensure that even if several hundred thousand people were in favor of a measure getting on the ballot, it wouldn't matter unless those people were distributed evenly throughout the state.

At root, this is nothing but another cynical move by the Michigan GOP to thwart the will of the voters. Voters passed measures that the GOP doesn't like, so they're going to take away the ability of voters ever to do so again.

Republicans have already used the lame-duck session to try to gut sick leave, undercut the authority of incoming Democratic officials, and weaken already-passed ballot measures. It was inevitable that their next step would be to impair the ability of Michigan voters to band together to seek change.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.