Straight-ticket Voting in Michigan

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Photo credit: erin leigh mcconnell

In politics–as in business or sports–there is more than one way to come out on top. If you’re a person of honor, solid moral character, and talent, then you work hard, compete vigorously and fairly, and succeed on your merits. But what if you’re concerned you can’t win that way? What if you simply don’t have the right stuff to win that way? In the case of Michigan’s Gov. Rick Snyder and Michigan’s Republican majority legislators, you play dirty. You rig the game. You stack the deck by changing the rules of the game in your favor. That’s exactly why Snyder just signed a highly partisan bill that eliminated straight-ticket voting in Michigan.

What is straight-ticket voting?

Straight-ticket voting allows a voter to check a single box at the top of a ballot to vote for all the candidate of a specific party, all the way down the ballot. For voters wishing to support a particular party, this significantly speeds the voting process, which in turn, shortens lines at the polls.

Why did Gov. Snyder eliminate straight-ticket voting?

If the straight-ticket voting option simplifies voting for those wishing to support a single party, why eliminate it? The answer is very simple. Doing so tilts the playing field in favor of the Republican party.

  • Straight-ticket voting is more commonly used to support Democratic candidates than Republican candidates.
  • Forcing voters to manually vote for each office listed on the ballot increases the likelihood of not voting at all on at least some of the down-ballot offices. This is advantageous to incumbents, which at present, are more likely to be Republican.
  • Longer voting lines reduce voter turnout among those that cannot afford the time to wait in line. More often than not, such voters tend to vote Democratic.

Secret Ballots

In this country, we vote secret ballots. We do so to protect voters from retaliation for their choices. However, retaliation comes in many forms and can be directed at not only individual voters but also at classes of voters.

In my opinion, “secret ballot” should mean not only keeping individual votes secret, but also keeping aggregate voting patterns secret. That is, publish results for each voted issue, but do not publish statistics or correlations of any kind across issues within ballots. For example, no statistics on how many voted a straight ticket, or how many voters voted a straight-ticked but then overrode that vote for specific office. And certainly, there should be no comparison of absentee vs non-absentee voting results.

Publishing such voting pattern statistics–voting metadata–creates opportunities for politicians to game the system for or against various classes of voters. Instead, each ballot issue should stand or fall on its own merits. This is not only the most honorable approach and the approach our founders intended, it is also more likely to produce fairer and more just outcomes.

Playing Fair

Let’s stop politicians like Gov. Snyder and his Republican majority from continuing to rig the game. Manipulating straight-party voting laws, absentee ballot laws, campaign speech laws, and voting district lines are all variations of gerrymandering. And this is really just another name for rigging the game. Or, playing dirty.

How, you might ask, can we stop them?

That’s easy. Vote.

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