Two Ballot Challenge

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    Proposals create historic ballot debacle for Detroit voters

    Detroit has always struggled with voter turnout and presidential elections sometimes are no exception. But in 2008, it was different because voters came out to make history and in the coming Nov. 6 election that history will be put to the test to see if history will repeat itself. But, if you are reading the political tea leaves you will realize that voters are now being challenged by what awaits them on the November ballot — something more than the hotly contested presidential election.

    In addition to making the presidential election a high-intensity political activity that should get every voter out to the polls because of the stark contrast between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney, voters are also facing a litany of ballot proposals to support or reject.

    Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, in an exclusive interview, revealed that for the first time voters in Detroit and Wayne County will have two ballots to vote on —when they request absentee ballots or show up at the polls on Election Day.

    The first ballot will have the presidential candidates and the local statewide races, and the second ballot will have all 18 proposals for voters to decide on. That means voters will now have to really demonstrate their political astuteness by making sure they don’t miss either ballot in voting their conscience on the issues that matter.

    “We already have a reading deficit in the city where illiteracy is high. All 18 proposals will be too much reading for the average voter coming to the polls on Election Day,” Winfrey said. “This is why we are encouraging absentee vote because what better place to take your time and read all of the proposals than in the comfort of your home.”

    We can attribute the unprecedented number of proposals on this year’s ballot to a distrust of government. When the legislature and other government branches fail to address crucial issues, then citizens take it upon themselves to address the matters.

    But addressing government distrust should not come at the expense of voters or create impediments that would lead to not only confusion at the polls, but also make it less likely for some people to vote.

    Voting should be made easier, not burdensome. Voters should not have to feel like they are reading a PhD thesis by going through all 18 proposals even though some of the proposals are key to the economic and educational revitalization of this region.

    And what is Winfrey doing?

    “We are making available sample ballots for all adult institutions of learning like Wayne County Community College District, Wayne State University, University of Detroit and others in a teachable format to let their students know about the two ballots,” Winfrey said. “We also have two satellite locations, Wayne County Community College Eastern campus and Northwest campus where people can vote absentee.”

    To avoid the long lines at the Detroit Department of Elections as was the case in 2008 where prior to that election, department staff members were servicing between 1000-1500 voters per day, Winfrey said voters can start voting early through absentee ballots.

    “We hope to get that kind of activity again but we want to be better prepared. We had high turnout in 2008 because people came out in drove numbers as history was being made,” Winfrey said. “But realistically, when you have two ballots it’s always a downside which is why we are aggressively pushing absentee voting and the sample ballots in schools as a teaching tool.”

    Maybe a referendum at some point will help to address what could be a potential ballot fatigue in November where voters end up not voting for all of the proposals on the ballot. There has to be a limit on how many ballot proposals can be accepted and that can be resolved through a referendum where voters put a cap on how many proposals can be on a ballot.

    Democracy requires that anyone can challenge an issue and put forth their own remedy to what is perceived as a problem in how government functions. But every proposed remedy isn’t a remedy and it will be a waste of time, money and energy to overload the ballot with other so-called remedies at the expense of other important issues on education that require voter approval, such as the Wayne County Community College District millage.

    The risk in November is that some voters may end up choosing the presidential ballot which also carries candidates for statewide offices and then select only a few on the proposals on the second ballot and call it a day.

    The burden therefore is also on those organizations and institutions that are engineering the many ballot questions to engage in mass voter education regarding what is at stake in November. They have to make sure people understand what the issues are and not feel intimidated or buffeted by two ballots.

    “We don’t want people to pick up the presidential ballot and leave the proposal ballot,” Winfrey said. “The way the two ballots are numbered will determine how we instruct our polls workers.”

    In an age of voting discrimination where several states have been mandating photo ID and in Michigan where Secretary of State Ruth Johnson is requiring a citizen checkbox, which has been denounced by several rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, as voter suppression, Winfrey said, “the citizen affirmation should not be enforced by any jurisdiction in the state because the governor has already vetoed that.”

    Gov. Rick Snyder. who is on a trade mission to China, earlier vetoed a package of bills that would have made it difficult for voters to cast their ballots, including a proposal that required showing photo ID before voting.

    Winfrey said the Department of Elections has already received 38,000 absentee ballot requests and those ballots would be mailed to voters on Saturday. More requests are expected this week as efforts mount to pass the 45,000 absentee ballot threshold in 2008.

    Bankole Thompson is editor of the Michigan Chronicle and author of “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published in 2010, and his recent book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with an epilogue by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. Thompson is a political news analyst at WDET-101.9FM (NPR affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut. E-mail bthompson@michroicle.com

     

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