Volunteers just might drain the swamp
State lawmakers who don’t like the way democracy works in Michigan have been working the past few years figuring out how to make the referendum process more difficult.
One effort would have banned paid petition circulators. Getting something on the statewide ballot in Michigan is already difficult, with advocates facing tight deadlines to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures. All-volunteer efforts too often run out of time.
Another idea from legislators would have required those paid circulators to wear a scarlet letter — a name badge identifying them as paid contractors motivated by money instead of passion for the issue. The ulterior motive is to make it less likely citizens will sign.
A more recent effort would violate petitioners’ First Amendment rights. A bill introduced in August would make it a crime for circulators to say much more about a referendum than the proposed ballot language. Proponents argue that activists sometimes use exaggeration and puffery to persuade signers. Opponents point out that politicians seeking election can and will say anything.
None of these is bipartisan. Republicans are the party of anti-participation, anti-voter efforts.
They are also the party that controls both houses of the Michigan Legislature — despite getting fewer votes than the Democratic candidates for those seats. They have accomplished that by mastering gerrymandering, drawing political districts to create an artificial electoral advantage. Look at a map of the state House districts for St. Clair and Sanilac counties. The districts were drawn by Republicans to reduce the influence of Democratic voters in Port Huron and in cities along the river.
A group called Voters Not Politicians wants to end political gerrymandering in Michigan and is circulating petitions for the November 2018 ballot that would take partisan politics and politicians out of redrawing political districts.
Two things about the initiative are amazing. First, the group has collected 350,000 signatures in three months, more than the 315,000 required, and expects to turn in 400,000 by the end of the year. Second, the group has done it entirely with volunteers.
Under the proposed constitutional amendment, a citizen panel would do redistricting. There would be four Democrats, four Republicans and five unaffiliated members chosen at random.
Republicans are already raising money to oppose it, with a group named “Committee to Protect Voters Rights” that does not. Remember, politicians can and will say anything.