I have a confession to make. I have never waited in line to vote. Having voted in Farmington Hills, Ann Arbor, Royal Oak and Birmingham, I have often sent in an absentee ballot; and when I have gone in person, I have never had more than one or two people in front of me.
Now that I think about it, I also have never had transportation issues getting to the polls or health issues that would make it harder to vote. I have been either a student or working in a professional capacity, meaning I did not have to take time off work to go vote. For me, voting has entailed absolutely no inconvenience or cost — but this is far from universally true.
In the last midterm election, only 41.6 percent of the voting age population in Michigan cast a ballot: 1,607,399 voted for Gov. Snyder, 1,479,057 for Mark Schauer and 70,075 for other candidates. The remaining 4,257,324 registered voters did not vote. If our democracy was truly representative, we would be left with an empty room.
This election season, there are two proposals, Proposals 2 and 3, which address some of the fundamental reasons that people do not vote: the perception that their vote does not matter and the barriers that make voting difficult.
In Michigan, district boundaries are set by the legislature. This creates incentives for the political party in power to craft districts that most benefit their party. This practice is known as gerrymandering. Proposal 2 would amend the state constitution and establish a commission of citizens with exclusive authority to adopt district boundaries for the Michigan Senate, Michigan House of Representatives and U.S. Congress, thereby removing the power from the partisan legislature and placing it within this citizen commission.
Gerrymandering has disempowered voters. Living in a district that so heavily favors one party or the other means that when voters claim that their vote does not matter, they are in some ways correct. In 2016, a year the presidential candidates in Michigan were separated by one quarter of 1 percent, not a single Michigan Congressional race was within 10 points. This is the result of allowing the prevailing party to draw the lines. While there are valid concerns raised about certain details of the citizen commission, Proposal 2 empowers voters and makes elected officials more responsive to the electorate instead of insulating them through gerrymandered districts.
Because it will encourage more participation in the democratic process, JCRC/AJC endorses Proposal 2.
Voting can be a real challenge for some people. In 2008, lines in the city of Detroit topped five hours. Even in midterm elections, waits of more than two hours are known to occur. This is tragic. For our democracy to function, we cannot cut off access to voting. The number of people able to vote is driven down by imposing excessive costs for voting, such as long waits and the need to take time off work, which is especially burdensome for hourly and shift workers.
Proposal 3 would authorize automatic and Election Day voter registration, no-reason absentee voting and straight ticket voting. Furthermore, it would add current legal requirements for military and overseas voting and post-election audits to the Michigan constitution.
While all aspects of Proposal 3 are worthy of support, no-reason absentee voting is the single most important step that we can take in making voting more accessible. Under our current system, there are only six reasons for which a voter can legally request an absentee ballot. Without meeting one of these reasons, no matter how compelling or how difficult it is for you to get to the polls, you cannot legally request an absentee ballot. While concerns have been raised about the potential for an increase in voter fraud, 27 states have adopted no-reason absentee voting programs without these fears coming true.
Because it will make access to voting easier for eligible Michigan voters, JCRC/AJC endorses Proposal 3.
Regardless of how you choose to vote on the ballot proposals, take part in the democratic process on Tuesday, Nov. 6, and BE A VOTER.
For information about your registration status and precinct, visit vote.michigan.gov.
Alicia B. Chandler is president of the JCRC/AJC.