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Governor signs bill eliminating straight ticket voting in Michigan

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published January 8, 2016

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LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder on Jan. 5 signed legislation eliminating 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 was ultimately amended by both houses of the Legislature and passed without a tie-bar to HB 4724, which at press time was still awaiting a vote in the Senate.

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.”

Harrison Township Clerk Adam Wit said he’s disappointed that the bill failed to include suggested amendments to alleviate concerns over long lines, such as no-reason absentee voting. Republicans were against the proposal.

“I know a lot of clerks are concerned about expanding lines, but I don’t think there will be a problem in Harrison Township,” Wit said. “I think we run our precincts really well.”

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

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.”

Bieda referred to the original Senate gathering in late December as if “it was like being in a Third World country,” saying SB 13 wasn’t originally supposed to be on the agenda. He was told about procedural moves late at night, and staff members and legislators had to leave the Senate floor while elected officials were locked in the Senate and restricted of the ability to speak.

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

State Rep. Marilyn Lane, D-Fraser, said she is deeply disappointed that the governor signed the legislation.

“This new law encumbers our communities with longer lines to cast their ballots and shifts even more of the burden on our local governments,” Lane said.

Mount Clemens City Clerk Lisa Borgacz agreed.

“Straight ticket voting keeps down waiting times,” she said, adding that there may also be more mistakes made during the voting process, resulting in replacement ballots being issued.

Warren City Clerk Paul Wojno called the legislation “really bad” and said it will hurt the elective process.

“What it does is that when (Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh) prepares the ballot, they have ballot initiatives as well as state and federal (initiatives) — (legislators have) taken away the right of the voter to choose a straight party ticket,” Wojno said. “It takes additional time and creates longer lines. (Snyder’s) really taking an option away and it’s all tied to party politics, and the Republicans looked at a way to create problems on Election Day.

“It hurts Democrats more than Republicans,” Wojno said. “Through the years, more Democrats do vote straight party ticket than Republicans.”

He said the city of Warren doesn’t have the financial resources to contact 100,000 voters and notify those who are unaware of the change in the law. He also said state and county clerks associations were both against the measure, sending signed petitions weeks ago to the Governor’s Office.

Clinton Township Clerk Kim Meltzer plans to implement new strategies in preparation for the presidential election, including working with the Chippewa Valley school district to pre-screen voters before they come in. She said that will alleviate waiting times by confirming that voters are in designated lines and at the correct precincts.

Staff Writer Julie Snyder contributed to this report.