Editorial: Good riddance to ballot proposals
Correction: A previous version of this editorial incorrectly said the Fair and Equal Michigan ballot proposal sought to amend the state constitution. It seeks to amend the state's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Here’s one good thing to come out of the coronavirus pandemic: Due to disruptions caused by the virus, poorly devised ballot measures are biting the dust.
Both of these initiatives are flawed, and we’re glad to see petition drives suspended.
►The Coalition to Close Lansing Loopholes seeks to keep people from buying anything of value for their legislators. Its petition drive was suspended last week. People shouldn’t be able to buy their legislator’s vote, but they do have the right to lobby. This initiative could prove an overbearing restriction of that right. The Legislature instead needs to pass an ethics bill that requires transparency and puts limits on wining and dining.
►Fair Tax Michigan’s ballot proposal seeks to enact a graduated income tax, which is the last thing Michigan needs. States with graduated income taxes are some of the slowest growing states in the nation. A progressive tax would drive people away and hurt Michigan’s competitiveness. Its petition drive has also been suspended.
►Fair and Equal Michigan’s ballot proposal wants to amend the state Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to ban bias against the LGBTQ community. That’s a law that should be written and debated by the Legislature to ensure that it protects everybody, including those with strong religious beliefs. As of Thursday evening, this campaign was still ongoing, but it should call it quits.
Suspending ballot drives is a good call. Collecting signatures for political causes is hardly an essential service, and with all of Michigan’s children, students and non-essential workers sheltered in homes until at least April 13, no one should risk breaking quarantine by opening their door to someone with a clipboard.
Last week before suspending its campaign, Fair Tax Michigan requested of the Legislature the ability to collect signatures online. That’s a bad idea for two reasons.
First, Michigan simply does not have a system in place to ensure the integrity of online signature lists.
“I don’t know how you would conduct that without the potential for massive fraud,” says Tom Shields, senior adviser of Marketing Resource Group.
“If you don’t have someone witness someone sign, then you have no accountability. You have to safeguard that these are registered voters. And an online petition doesn't allow you to do that.”
Aside from the question of integrity, a real concern is that Michigan has already strayed too far toward California in making laws through direct democracy.
The ballot initiative process has been hijacked by well-funded special interests who stand to profit from the new laws — think the recreational marijuana proposal that passed in 2018. It is expensive to gather signatures and finance a campaign. So most of the initiatives are not the true grass-roots movements envisioned by the state constitution.
Political parties are fond of using populist initiatives to drive their supporters to the polls. It’s the wrong way to make policy.
Making it easier to bring an initiative to the ballot will encourage more such frivolous or self-serving measures. Michigan voters most often see through these ploys — most ballot proposals fail.
Instead of lowering the bar for changing the constitution or state law, it should be raised.