Governor passes bill ending straight-ticket voting

By: Kevin Bunch, Nick Mordowanec | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published January 20, 2016

 Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation Jan. 5 to eliminate straight ticket voting in Michigan, a move local clerks feel will increase wait times at the polls.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation Jan. 5 to eliminate straight ticket voting in Michigan, a move local clerks feel will increase wait times at the polls.

Image provided by Marne McGrath


LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation Jan. 5 that eliminated straight-ticket voting in Michigan.

Senate Bill 13, which was sponsored by state Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, updates state election law and disallows constituents from voting for single parties with the check of one box in polling places.

“Michigan is one of only 10 states that allows residents to vote for just a party affiliation rather than individual people. It’s time to choose people over politics,” Snyder said in a statement published on the governor’s website. “To alleviate concerns that this change could lead to longer wait times for voters, I’m asking the Legislature to enact secured no-reason absentee voting.”

House Bill 4724 was a piece of legislation introduced by state Rep. Lisa Lyons, R-Alto, that would introduce in-person, no-reason absentee voting. Snyder said the House of Representatives passed SB 13 and that it was tie-barred to HB 4724 — meaning SB 13 couldn’t become law unless HB 4724 did.

However, SB 13 ultimately was amended by both houses of the Legislature and passed without a tie-bar to HB 4724.

Snyder mentioned the National Conference of State Legislatures, which says Michigan is one of 13 states that does not allow for some form of early or no-reason absentee voting. He called the state’s law “archaic.”

“Voters should have at least 15 days to vote by absentee before Election Day,” Snyder said. “I urge the Senate to pass the (no-reason absentee) bill and send it to me as soon as possible to be signed into law. This will not only provide greater access to the polls, (but) it will also help alleviate long lines at the ballot box.”

The new law includes a $5 million appropriation bill for the purchase of new voting equipment to ease Election Day administration, with future investments to be considered as needed.

State Rep. John Chirkun, D-Roseville, said the state could have better used that money elsewhere, perhaps for road funding, if it had not touched the straight-ticket voting option in the first place.

He added that the appropriation struck him as only being added so that voters could not undo the bill with a ballot initiative, as they had in two previous attempts to end straight-ticket voting.

I don’t think it’s fair to the population and the residents of the state of Michigan,” Chirkun said. “They say it’s antiquated the way the state handles it, but there’s nothing antiquated about voting.”

Chirkun believes it was strictly a political move to help Republicans do better in certain areas of the ballot, like university regent elections.
Lyons made a statement explaining her “nay” vote on Dec. 16.

“I have always supported eliminating straight-ticket voting because we should vote for people, not political parties,” Lyons said. “However, I have consistently cautioned that we need to be mindful of the impact this will have on Election Day, and we need to provide tools — like offering Michigan voters secure no-reason absentee voting — to mitigate longer lines at the polls. Because this bill falls short of addressing very legitimate concerns, in the end I could not support it.

“I do not believe this policy alone is in the best interest of Michigan’s voters, and it is unfortunate that the Legislature squandered the opportunity to enact good election reform that is not pro-Republican or pro-Democrat, but pro-voter.”
State Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, was “very disappointed” in the passing of SB 13 and said Michiganders already voted down a measure to eliminate straight-ticket voting in 2002.

He said the real impact will be on the clerks who have to deal with longer voting lines in a state that has extensive ballots, as well as poorer communities that don’t have the proper resources.

While voters can still vote for candidates in one party, Bieda said SB 13 takes away a voter’s right to vote for one party’s candidates if they choose.

“It’s none of (people’s) damn business (who they vote for),” Bieda said. “If they want to vote straight ticket, they have a right to do that. (The bill) took away the option to staunchly hit a button or fill in an oval.

“It’s a ridiculous argument and a very stupid argument because we’re not telling people they have to study every elected official vying for office. I think it’s a real shame and think (Republicans) know exactly what they’re trying to do.”

He said expanding absentee voting is the right thing to do, but not in this manner.

Roseville City Clerk Richard Steenland said the bill’s passage made “absolutely no sense” to him given that all it did was remove a choice that voters had, and it will make voting take longer for someone who has decided to vote strictly Republican or Democrat for the applicable positions.

“Quite frankly, I think it won’t have an impact whatsoever, other than if someone wants to vote straight party, they have to stand in the voting booth and go down the list,” Steenland said. “I think it’s going to hinder the process more than help, because it’ll create longer lines.”

He said it could also slow down the voting process further, as voters who make mistakes on their ballots while filling out their picks would then have to go through the process of replacing their ballots with new ones.

Steenland said it also was “ridiculous” for the state to not pass the expanded absentee voting bill; he argued that registered voters should not have any rules governing when they can or can’t vote absentee.

“It’s allowed in many other states,” Steenland said. “I should be able to have the opportunity to take the ballot home, sit at the kitchen table and review the candidates and ballot initiatives. Or if I’m not going to be in town that day, I should be able to get my ballot without having to explain to someone that I’m going away.”

Eastpointe City Manager Steve Duchane said the city does not have a position on the political outcome of the bill, nor did he have any idea what kind of impact it could have on Eastpointe’s voting population, if any.

The expanded absentee voting rules would have been a step in the right direction in terms of getting more people involved in the political process, Duchane said.

“We just want whatever is most efficient and least costly to be administered,” Duchane said.