Local reaction negative to straight ticket elimination

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published January 19, 2016

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Weeks after Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation eliminating straight-ticket voting, local clerks and lawmakers say they hope the state is prepared for the consequences.

St. Clair Shores City Clerk Mary Kotowski said that Michigan has one of the longest ballots in the country on even-year elections, which can include votes for the president, U.S. senators and Congress representatives, boards of education, state lawmakers and more. 

“If they haven’t looked at that ballot, it’s going to take them a significant amount of time to get through it, especially if ballot proposals are on there too,” she said. “It makes that ballot enormous.”

And state Rep. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores, said eliminating straight-ticket voting takes options away from voters and will lead to longer lines at the polls.

“This systematically will impact our urban areas, which is our Democrat strongholds, and this was an attempt to disenfranchise Democratic voters,” she said. “Why take an option away? If that’s what they want to do, why shouldn’t they be able to do that?”

With about 40 percent of St. Clair Shores voters using the straight-ticket ballot during large elections in the past decade, Kotowski said it’s obvious that they liked having the option.

“Michigan voters, that’s been on the ballot twice and they’ve turned it down,” she said. The straight-ticket option would “make a very long ballot an easier one for someone who picks more of one political party. 

“I believe it’s going to increase the lines on Election Day.”

But because the new law includes a $5 million appropriation bill for the purchase of new voting equipment to ease Election Day administration, voters will not be able to overturn the bill this time, Roberts said.

Kotowski said that in the 2014 governor election, 47 percent of St. Clair Shores voters turned out to the polls, with 41 percent of those using the straight-ticket option. In 2012, turnout was 69 percent, with 43 percent of those voting straight ticket, and in 2008, turnout was 73 percent, with 39 percent of those utilizing the straight-ticket option.

In 2014, 48 percent of the straight-ticket voters were Republican and 50 percent were Democrat; 43 percent were Republican and 55 percent were Democrat in 2012; and 40 percent were Republican and 58 percent of straight-ticket voters were Democrat in 2008.

Roberts said that when she asked Republican lawmakers why eliminating straight-ticket voting was important, they said that “voters are lazy” and that now they would have to “research who to vote for.”

“Who are you to dictate what people should or should not do, and what they do or do not know, and just because somebody votes straight ticket doesn’t mean they are uninformed,” Roberts said. 

She wondered what would happen if there was still a long line at a polling location when the precinct closes at 8 p.m.

“Are they going to allow all those voters to vote?” she said. “That’s a concern that I have.”

Kotowski said the state Legislature approved the measure without also approving “no reason” absentee voting, which would have allowed voters to have time to read the ballot at home before casting their vote via absentee. 

She said clerks across the state urged the Legislature to reconsider the measure, to no avail, and now, she said, she hopes the state provides education to voters before they turn up in November.

While there are still primary elections, including the March 8 presidential primary, voters must choose a party ballot to vote and cannot cross party lines, meaning that the first time the straight ticket elimination will be used is 10 months from now.

“Hopefully, because the state did this, they’re going to educate voters on this, because now they’re going to walk into the poll thinking they can do this from past years and they’re going to be confused,” she said. “Voters, when they come, they don’t keep up with what law” has changed since the last time they voted. 

St. Clair Shores, Kotowski said, will of course educate voters through local cable news programs. 

Roberts said she is also concerned that SB 571 passed, stating that municipalities, schools and other public entities cannot send out educational materials about millage proposals to voters more than 60 days before an election. The governor signed it Jan. 6.

“Twice in one night, they are making democracy harder. They are making it harder for voters to be educated and exercise their right to vote,” she said. “It’s so disheartening. We should be doing everything we can to make voting easier, to promote education and knowledge of issues from all sides, and I just feel like they’re doing the exact opposite.”

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