Voting straight party lets a voter cast a ballot for all of the partisan offices with a single mark. This means people can vote in a single stroke for all of the candidates of one party – president, U.S. senator, representative in Congress, state legislator, county executive, sheriff, state Board of Education and more. This saves time in the voting booth so it makes lines shorter.
For 125 years, Michigan voters have had the right to vote straight party. In 2015, the Michigan Legislature passed a bill, Public Act 268, taking away that right. Supporters of the bill claimed that it would make voters more deliberate, more thoughtful, as if the decision to vote straight party is not a thoughtful decision.
The Michigan State A. Phillip Randolph Institute, Common Cause and a number of individuals sued to prevent the law from taking effect. They argued that it would have an injurious effect on voters all around the state, but that its most injurious effect would be on minority voters. Why? Because the data from past elections shows that minorities use straight party voting at a much higher rate than the population in general.
In the state as a whole about 50% of voters choose to vote straight party. In Detroit, the percentage is about 75%. There is a very strong correlation between the percentage of African Americans in a city and the percentage of people voting straight party in that city.
Removing the straight party voting option means that it will take more time to vote, which means that the lines of people waiting to vote will be longer. Longer lines discourage voters. Most states now have early voting and allow anyone to vote an absentee ballot. But in Michigan we don’t have early voting and absentee voting is limited.
Many states permit early voting, where a voter does not have to provide an excuse for being unable to show up on Election Day. Some additional states let citizens to vote early, provided they prove that they have valid reasons for doing so. This practice is known as in-person absentee voting.
Michigan is one of 13 states that do not allow no-excuse early voting. As of November 2016, 34 states and the District of Columbia permitted no-excuse early voting. These states include many in our region – Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. The other three states use voting by mail, eliminating the need to appear in person.
Early voting can make the process more convenient, thereby increasing turnout and diversifying the electorate.
Portable registration and automatic registration are additional progressive initiatives that enhance voter participation so you don’t have to re-register after you move.
But Michigan is out of step with most of the rest of the country in improving access to the ballot, embracing full democracy and encouraging significant increases in voter participation.
Over the decades, many Americans have struggled for the recognition of equal voting rights. Some have been jailed and some have even died in the effort. Shouldn’t Michigan’s government celebrate that right and invite people to vote rather than trying to limit them?