On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law Senate Bill 13, which eliminates the option on election ballots to vote a straight party ticket with a single action. Michigan voters who want to vote a straight-party ticket can still do so, but will have to mark their votes for each candidate one at a time.
Some evidence suggests that Democratic voters use the straight-party voting option more than Republican voters do. Republicans in Michigan have tended to support eliminating it, while Democrats have been united behind keeping it in place.
This marks the third time the Michigan Legislature has voted to repeal the option. The two previous attempts in 1964 and 2001 were subsequently undone by citizen-initiated referendums. This time, however, the legislation included a modest appropriation, which under the Michigan Constitution makes the new law referendum-proof.
"I think it will marginally help Republicans," said Inside Michigan Politics founder Bill Ballenger. "There are some places in the state where a lot of Republicans vote straight party, but even more portions — particularly in urban areas — where large numbers of Democrats do. The change should be slightly to the advantage of the Republicans. I think the Republicans made a mistake 13 years ago by not putting an appropriation in the legislation to prevent the 2002 referendum. Former Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer pounced on that immediately and got it on the ballot so the voters could reverse it."
"I would say that the Democrats do have a point when they argue that the voters turned this down 13 years ago by a solid majority," Ballenger continued. "But I don’t think that will matter very much. I mean, I don’t think there will be any backlash against the Republicans for this in upcoming elections."
Democrats have argued that eliminating the straight-ticket voting option would cause confusion and frustration among voters and result in longer lines at the polls. In some urban areas, voters have had to wait in line for hours to cast their votes. Although it is estimated that the change would add an average of 30 seconds to the time it takes a voter to cast a ballot, cumulatively it could result in a longer wait for many voters.
Meanwhile, Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon has suggested that a challenge to the law could be mounted in the courts.
Arguments in favor of eliminating the straight-party option include the fact that most states no longer have it. Until Snyder signed Senate Bill 13 into law, Michigan was one of only 10 states that still had it. The others are: Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.
Supporters of the new law argue that voters ought to educate themselves about prospective officeholders and that the absence of the straight-ticket option could encourage them to do so. Back in 2002, it was also argued that its presence unfairly puts candidates representing alternative parties such as the Libertarian Party and the Green Party at a disadvantage. It was also pointed out then that the movement to eliminate the straight ticket in Massachusetts — during the first half of the 20th century — was led by the Kennedy family. At that time, Massachusetts was predominantly a Republican-voting state.
In a news release announcing that he signed the bill, Snyder said, “Michigan is one of only 10 states that allow residents to vote for just a party affiliation rather than individual people. … It’s time to choose people over politics.” A letter signed by the governor accompanying the bill signing explains why he also is also asking the Legislature to enact no-reason absentee voting.
As Senate Bill 13 worked its way through the Legislature, Republicans openly rejected efforts to also include no-reason absentee voting.
In reaction to Snyder's act, the left-wing group, Progress Michigan, issued a news release with the headline: ‘Snyder Signs Partisan Move to Lengthen Lines at Polls.’ The subhead beneath this headline read 'Eliminating straight-party ticket voting another conservative attempt to rig elections.'
Senate Bill 13 was sponsored by Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy. It is now Public Act 268 of 2015. The appropriation that was added to it allocates $5 million to the Secretary of State for voting equipment that might be needed to implement the law.