GOP benefits from straight-party voting it opposes

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
Republicans must nominate a candidate who can actually win the November election, beating out Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, Finley writes.

Lansing— Michigan Republicans are convinced they ended up benefiting immensely in Tuesday’s election from the straight-ticket voting policy that they have been determined to eliminate.

They credit presidential candidate Donald Trump’s strength in Macomb County and the preservation of straight-ticket voting for helping them capture three countywide posts held by Democrats. The straight-ticket effect is a twist of irony after a prominent Macomb County Democrat waged a legal battle to keep the voting option on the ballot.

A Republican-backed state law banning straight-ticket voting was suspended by a federal judge for this election because it likely would cause voter confusion, but the fight to protect it was seen as a maneuver to help Trump’s rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“The Republicans (repealed) straight ticket voting, the Democrats fought it and got it held, and then we ended being the benefactors of straight-ticket voting,” said state Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, chair of the House Elections Committee.

Mark Brewer, the former Michigan Democratic Party chairman and a resident of Clinton Township, led the fight in court to keep the straight-party voting practice, which allows voters to fill in one bubble on their ballot to support all candidates of one political party in partisan races.

“If they think straight-party voting is so helpful, my challenge to them is to repeal the bill that took it away,” Brewer said. “But they won’t.”

The most visible effect in Metro Detroit was in Macomb County, where Democratic county Treasurer Derek Miller lost by 1,612 votes to Republican Larry Rocca and Democratic county clerk candidate Fred Miller was narrowly defeated by 637 votes by Republican Karen Spranger. Both races were decided by fractions of a percentage point.

Spranger and Rocca got nearly half of their votes (49.5 percent and 49.3 percent, respectively) from voters who cast straight-party Republican Party ballots, a higher percentage than Trump garnered in the county (41.5 percent) from the GOP faithful.

“Thank you, Mark Brewer. Good job,” said retiring U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, who was elected Macomb County public works commissioner.

Miller ousted Democratic incumbent Anthony Marrocco with 43 percent of her votes coming from straight-ticket voters. Miller won 54.6 percent of the vote, defeating Marrocco by 9.2 percentage points.

Option ‘helpful’

State Rep. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township, said straight-party voting was “extremely helpful” in electing Trump and down-ballot Republicans in Macomb County.

“So the Democrats got exactly what they wanted — they got it straight,” Lucido said.

Brewer disputed the Republican analysis of the races for Macomb County treasurer and clerk/register of deeds. He noted that Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith, a Democrat, beat Republican opponent Michael Wrathell by 23 percentage points.

“Their analysis is simply wrong. Straight-party voting is not responsible for what happened there,” Brewer said. “All of the stuff they’ve been saying about me this week, that’s just taunting me.”

The Michigan Secretary of State’s Office doesn’t collect straight-ticket voting information. The 83 county clerks track the information for their particular area.

Brewer’s lawsuit challenged the Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder’s elimination of straight party voting by contending the ban would lead to long lines at polling precincts and confusion among voters who like the convenience. Democratic lawmakers made similar arguments when the GOP-controlled Legislature banned straight-party voting in late 2015.

“My issue with straight-ticket voting has always been about lines,” said state Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor. “Voters in certain communities shouldn’t have to wait hours in line to vote. People have kids to shepherd, they’ve got jobs to get to — not everyone can take hours out of their day to vote. That’s simply unfair.”

Brewer argued eliminating the quick option of voting for all candidates from a single party would disenfranchise African-American voters, who have a higher rate of straight-party voting, particularly for Democrats.

In Detroit, 82 percent of Hillary Clinton’s votes on Tuesday came from straight Democratic Party votes. Clinton captured 95 percent of the vote in the predominately African-American city.

For Wayne County, the Democratic straight-party vote for Clinton was nearly 70 percent. By comparison, Trump received 45 percent of his votes from straight Republican Party votes in the state’s largest county.

Future of court battle

After Detroit U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain kept straight-party voting in place for Tuesday’s election, the lawsuit will go to trial sometime next year unless Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette agrees to let Drain impose a permanent injunction, Brewer said.

“If they really believe in straight-party voting, they’d repeal the bill,” Brewer said of Republicans.

Republicans have argued that eliminating the practice would force voters to focus on individual candidates in each race.

Another problem with straight-party voting is that it neglects the nonpartisan races on the ballot, said Candice Miller, a former two-term Michigan secretary of state. Marking the straight-partisan option means voters neglect important nonpartisan races for Michigan Supreme Court, local offices, state ballot proposals and local proposals and millage requests, she said.

But Miller said she doesn’t feel “particularly strongly” about eliminating straight-ticket voting.

Michigan was one of 10 states that had a straight-party voting option prior to Snyder signing the law to get rid of it.

At the polls on Tuesday, James Coleburn of Farmington Hills said he used the straight-party option to vote for all Republicans.

“I’d like them to keep it in place,” said Coleburn, 70, a retired retail store manager.

Most Republican lawmakers still believe it’s “good policy” to let voters decide every line-by-line race on the ballot, said Lyon, a term-limited legislator who was elected Tuesday as Kent County clerk.

“I haven’t heard anybody around the Republican circles saying ‘Maybe we should reconsider this,’” she said.

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood