Opinion: Expanding voter participation is critical for democracy
Over the years, ill-intentioned people have worked to manipulate the rules to narrow voter participation with a series of restrictions designed to make it more difficult for certain people to vote.
Laws that create obstacles for college students, making it more difficult for them to become first time voters. Laws that restrict who can cast an absentee ballot.
And a law, passed by the Republicans, banning straight ticket voting which U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain said, “reflects racial discriminatory intent harbored by the Michigan Legislature, and disparately impacts African-Americans’ opportunity to vote in concert with social and historical conditions of discrimination.” Laws passed and maintained by Republicans to favor one type of voter and disenfranchise others.
Voting should be accessible to all eligible citizens to exercise their right and privilege to participate in the democratic process. Passage of Proposal 3 represents an opportunity to change the rules that have created so many barriers to voting and increase the ability of Michiganians to cast a ballot. Prop 3, or Promote the Vote, will create an electoral system that is fair to everyone.
One of the most critically needed changes that will be made by Proposal 3 is ensuring that members of the United States Armed Forces receive their ballots in a timely manner to allow them to cast their vote. All too often, members of the military and other citizens overseas have their ballots rejected because they are not received on time.
Prop 3 will enshrine in our state constitution the right of our men and women serving our country to have their ballot sent to them 45 days before the election, giving them plenty of time to fill out their ballot and have it returned before the election day deadline. Members of our military sacrifice so much to protect our democracy, we owe it to them to guarantee their ability to participate in it.
We also need to remove the barriers created by the limitations on absentee voting. Currently the ability to vote by mail is mostly limited to individuals who cannot make it to their polling location. Allowing any voter to vote by mail for any reason, or no reason, would be particularly helpful for working parents. Being able to complete your ballot at home, after work when the kids are in bed makes so much more logistical sense than planning to get to the polls after work but before soccer practice.
Proposal 3 would also restore straight-ticket voting, an option that makes the voting process much more efficient. Voters of both political parties use the option, however its absence will have a bigger impact in urban areas. On a ballot with a dozen partisan races, even an additional 30 seconds to fill it out will result in hours of wait time when multiplied by hundreds of voters in high-traffic urban precincts.
Perhaps the most important thing Proposal 3 does is add safeguards that protect voters and ensures the integrity of our elections. After passage of this measure, all Michigan voters will have a constitutionally protected right to cast a secret ballot, protecting voters from attempts to erode their privacy. Prop 3 also adds a critically needed audit of election results, which helps to ensure accuracy and confidence.
The ability to choose our representatives in government at the ballot box is the fundamental cornerstone of our democratic process. Our system of government depends on the participation of citizens in selecting their leaders. It is how the people voice their consent in the governing process. Voting “Yes” on Proposal 3 will build on that foundation.
Ron Bieber is president of Michigan AFL-CIO.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.