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Rubin: The Michigan Senate thinks you’re an idiot

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News
At Riley Middle School in Livonia, a sizeable crowd gathered for a special election. Clerks worry that a ban on straight-ticket voting will create sizeable backups, especially during presidential years.

We expect a little chicanery from our beloved legislature. A touch of duplicity. Extended periods of befuddlement and bickering, punctuated by a few needless years of potholes.

Those things barely get anyone’s attention, except for the potholes. But nobody likes being treated like an idiot, especially by people radiating hypocrisy.

The Republicans in the Michigan Senate decided last week to do away with straight-ticket voting. A quick committee meeting in the morning, all-in-favor-say-aye that night.

Never mind that when the legislature did away with straight tickets before, in 2001, Michigan voters passed an initiative to reinstall them.

This time, the Republican majority added a $1 million appropriation to the needless bill that voters have said they don’t want, which makes it immune to being challenged.

You might wonder why the senate decided — 23 Republicans for, 11 Democrats and two Republicans against — to concern itself with one little time-saving circle on the ballot.

The bill’s sponsor, Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, said with a straight face that “it should be about the candidate, not pulling a lever for a political party.”

Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, sponsored the bill to eliminate straight party voting.

What he meant was: More Democrats vote straight tickets than Republicans.

A lot more, especially in Wayne County. In the gubernatorial race last year, 80 percent of Democrat Mark Schauer’s 323,762 votes came via straight ticket. For incumbent Rick Snyder, the figure was 38 percent of 129,111 votes.

In Oakland and Macomb counties, the margins were much closer, but Democrats were still more likely to vote straight party.

So if the Michigan House joins the parade and Snyder signs the bill, the straight ticket will go the way of the Milliken Republican, a quaint echo of the past — which almost isn’t even the point.

The main issue is that the senate wants to spend time, effort and $1 million of the people’s money on political hackery disguised as legislation.

Or to put it another way: Does anyone believe for a millisecond that the bill would exist if most straight-ticket voters were Republican?

Not only Republicans

Let us not pretend that this is a one-party plague. If Democrats were in charge and they figured out that most left-handers favored Republicans, we would quickly find ourselves with right-handed voting booths.

The party line from the Republicans on straight tickets is that they’re just trying to force voters to be better informed and choose their candidates on merit.

The identical Republicans included an appropriation, however, to make sure the same voters can’t exercise their collective wisdom by reinstating straight tickets.

The party of less government interference and fiscal prudence is guaranteeing longer waits at polling places and more time spent by voters away from their jobs — unless, of course, they get frustrated and decide to skip voting altogether.

If some of the people who previously voted a straight ticket forget to vote for a given office or, better yet, mistakenly vote Republican, that’s a bonus.

Only 10 states allow it

At least no one is truly being disenfranchised this time — unlike with the emergency manager law, which the voters rejected and the legislature then approved with another of those handy, bulletproof appropriations.

Straight-ticket voting is a harder subject to get impassioned about. Only 10 states allow it, and it’s not exactly arduous duty to flip a few more levers or make some more marks on a sheet.

But maybe the senators who voted for the bill would like to fill in for poll workers or county clerks on election day. Multiply one more minute in the booth by the number of previous straight-ticket voters, and people had best bring a lunch.

The Michigan Townships Association, which carries the banner for 1,240 local clerks, vehemently opposed the bill.

Someone from the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks also testified against it during the committee hearing, which might have mattered if the bill was about something other than squelching votes.

Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, said he hoped that eliminating straight tickets would help put an end to partisanship.

Then, fittingly, he joined in the entirely partisan vote to pass the proposal. On that road, at least, there were no potholes.