Editorial: Vote no on all ballot proposals

The Detroit News

Editor's note: The Detroit News is making recommendations in a number of state and local races on the Nov. 6 election ballot. To maximize our resources and give our readers a more balanced and comprehensive view of the candidates and issues, The News is using a different approach this year. Some of the selections will bear the traditional endorsement of the newspaper’s editorial board. In other races, we'll offer the personal recommendations of our editorial columnists, Nolan Finley and Ingrid Jacques, along with columns from alternative viewpoints. As always, our mission is to provide our readers with the resources to help them make informed choices on Election Day.

Michigan voters will decide three statewide ballot proposals on Nov. 6. Each would make substantive policy changes by referendum, a practice that hasn’t always served the state well. We recommend a no vote on all three measures, urging instead that the Legislature settle the issues through the regular lawmaking process.

The basic problem with making law through direct democracy is that once a measure is enshrined by voters in the state constitution, it’s hard to fix when unintended consequences arise, or if it proves not in the best interests of the state.

Term limits is the perfect example. It’s widely agreed that the limits, as imposed by the ballot amendment, are not working. But changing the law will require another expensive campaign to secure voter support.

It’s much better that lawmakers do their jobs and not foist difficult decisions off on the voters. And if they won’t adopt the policies voters demand, then they should be replaced at the ballot box.

It’s the unintended consequences that doom the three current proposals facing Michigan voters.

Proposal 1: The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol proposal would legalize the use of recreational pot, an admirable goal and a position Michigan should adopt.

But a lesson should be learned from the passage a decade ago of the ballot measure to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The state still hasn’t figured out how to effectively implement the initiative. The current quagmire over the awarding of licenses for retail pot shops is just the latest twist in the road to getting the policy right.

Legalizing recreational pot will face similar challenges. The primary problem with this proposal is that it won’t do what its name implies: regulate marijuana like alcohol.

Prop 1 would leave too much of the marijuana production and distribution network underground, making enforcement of regulatory and tax policies difficult.

Private individuals would be able to grow marijuana for personal use, though all sales would be through licensed brokers. The proposal would also allow pot to be sold in a variety of forms, including candy and and other food products. 

As with medical marijuana, retail sales would be limited to specialty retailers.

That’s nothing like how alcohol is regulated.

The better approach is to license commercial growers, carefully regulate the content and the products, and sell pot alongside alcohol in a variety of licensed retail outlets. That would bring the pot trade fully out of the shadows.

Lawmakers could craft a law to give the state greater flexibility in assuring recreational marijuana doesn’t harm local communities, put children at risk or cheat the state of the tax revenue legal pot should generate.

The state has considerable leeway in regulating alcohol; it would not have the same ability to manage the distribution and sale of marijuana. For that reason, voters should say No to Proposal 1.

Proposal 2: Voters Not Politicians is another measure with a name that sounds better than the results it likely will produce.

Contrary to its promise, it will not remove politicians from the process of redrawing political district lines; the person who will ultimately select the “independent” commission that will set the new districts is the elected secretary of state, a partisan.

Can voters be certain that a politician beholden to a political party will not put his or her thumb on the scale?

Michigan would be moving to an untested approach. If Prop 2 fails to deliver on its promise of eliminating gerrymandering, the fix would require another ballot measure. 

A better solution would be for Democrats and Republicans to embrace the use of technology to draw balanced districts made up of voters with similar concerns without absurdly distorting the geographic map. 

In addition, the language defining how communities of interest should be grouped is vague and opens the door to endless litigation. 

Voters should say no to Prop 2.

Proposal 3: The Promote the Vote measure is the least suspect of the three proposals, but it, too, has fatal flaws. The initiative would amend the state constitution to allow no-reason absentee voting, give the military additional time to vote, let citizens register anytime with proof of residency, return straight ticket voting, protect secret ballots and require audits for election results.

Most of those are OK, and should be adopted in some form by the Legislature.

But this proposal would allow would-be voters to show up at the polls on Election Day and ask to be registered. Polling places would become clerks’ offices, requiring more staffing and leading to voting delays. It would also make validating voter eligibility more difficult.

Michigan does very well at registering eligible voters. Roughly 95 percent of those eligible to vote are on the registration rolls. 

Prop 2 deals with too many separate issues that would be better debated one-by-one by the Legislature. Voters should say No.

An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that marijuana grown for personal use could be sold, and failed to note that Proposal 1 provides for regulating the potency of pot products.