Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Can't gerrymander statewide elections

There's something about the Michigan GOP and December. Power grabs used to be confined to years with a lame-duck legislature. Not anymore. These guys must be getting desperate. Well, there is a prez. election next year and the GOP hasn't figured out how to gerrymander statewide elections, which as a whole tends to vote Dem even if districts are rigged to keep the GOP in control of the legislature.

This year's power grab started a few months ago with a push to do away with straight-ticket balloting – mark one box or pull one lever and vote for all the candidates of one party. Of course, the GOP knows this feature tends to be used more by Dem voters than GOP voters. City and County clerks didn't like eliminating it because that would slow down voting, meaning longer lines. Translation: Dem leaning voters would look at the lines or the length and complexity of the ballot and decide not to vote.

Democrats responded by demanding no-reason absentee voting. For a while a bill to grant that was linked to the bill banning straight-ticket voting. Of course, the GOP started putting restrictions on getting an absentee ballot – requesting a ballot must be done in person and clerk's offices aren't allowed to be open on weekends. But key GOP senators didn't like that so the whole absentee thing, including restrictions, was unlinked and dropped.

On the last day of the session for the year the state Senate was about to adjourn when a message came from the House. Could you stick around for a while? We may have something you might like.

Brian Dickerson, an opinion columnist for the Detroit Free Press, wrote:
For 5½ hours, Republican state legislators personified the government they have spent the last several years warning us about: arrogant, contemptuous of its own rules, indifferent to public opinion and focused single-mindedly on the preservation of its own political power.
The final bill contained these GOP goodies:

* End of straight-ticket voting (without the no-reason absentee changes). This is something Michigan voters have twice said they want to keep.

* A reduction in the paperwork that Political Action Committees need to file (well, maybe, Dems thought this was a good idea too).

* A change to that PAC filing deadline so it comes after the election.

* Strengthening of several provisions of the Citizens United case the Supremes decided in 2010 that opened the floodgates to campaign cash. None of those provisions included having to disclose donors.

* A ban on public officials using public money to issue any kind of communication about a local ballot question in the 60 days before an election. Translation: Your local school board may put a millage renewal on the ballot then be banned from explaining why it is necessary. Yeah, that means the only groups that are able to tell you about local proposals are those corporate PACs.

One key part of this process passed by one vote and that was one Democratic vote. Virgil Smith of Detroit faces felony assault charges, but the GOP is allowing him to keep his seat at least until the trial. His votes reflect his hostage status.

The revised bill with all those goodies passed both the House and Senate. It is on Gov. Rick Snyder's desk. He is GOP but hasn't said what he will do with it beyond "study" it. Lots of groups, when they aren't busy with holiday plans, are urging Snyder to veto the mess.

As for the GOP legislators, their holiday shopping is done.

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