As Michigan’s next Secretary of State, I will push for election reform to make our elected officials more representative of the voting public and expand the inclusion of independent and third party candidates.
Ranked Choice Voting
Many candidates for public office, especially in the primaries, will win their election despite getting far less than a majority of the vote.
Ranked Choice Voting, also known as Instant Run-off Voting, is an election reform that is used when there are more than two candidate in a race. This system requires a winning candidate to receive a majority of support in order to win a primary or general election. Rather than vote for a single candidate, voters get to rank each of the candidates. If nobody receives a majority of the vote, the last place candidate is dropped and the votes cast for that candidate are given to the voter’s second choice. This process is repeated until a winning candidate receives a majority of support. Such a voting system is used by voters in Maine, several us cities (including Minneapolis and San Francisco), overseas military ballots in five states, and was approved by voters in Ferndale in 2004, but not yet implemented.
Ranked voting has several advantages over our current system;
- RCV reduces negative campaigning because each candidate needs to consider earning the second choice of each voter,
- RCV encourages the election of candidates that are more representative of their district by preventing candidates getting elected with less than majority support, and
- RCV encourages voters to consider independent and third party candidates without worrying about the “spoiler effect” and “wasted vote” argument.
How does Ranked Choice Voting Work?
Nonpartisan local offices
Counties, townships, and villages should be allowed to hold nonpartisan elections. Cities already have this “right” under the Home City Rule Act.
Having partisan local elections effectively nationalizes them because they are tied to how well the major political parties do every two years. Why does a Village Council need to be composed of partisan Democrats and Republicans? Coupled with straight ticket voting, this makes it difficult for independent and third party candidates to compete even in local elections. Additionally, because elected county officials also serve on the executive boards of the county political parties, Michigan election law automatically give the Democrats and Republicans affiliate organizations in all 83 counties.
The Home Rule City Act, Act 279 of 1909, 117.3(a) states “Elections may be by a partisan, nonpartisan, or preferential ballot, or by any other legal method of voting.” A similar law could be passed allowing other local governments to do the same.
Stop Subsidizing the Democratic and Republican Governor Candidates
All candidates running for Governor in the primary had to spend thousands of dollars and collect over 15,000 signatures to appear on the ballot. Of the three political parties qualified for the primary, only two of them are subsidized by taxpayers.
Under Michigan campaign finance law, the winners of the Republican and the Democratic Party Governor primary automatically qualify for $1.125 million in public funding. The winner of the Libertarian Party Governor primary does not qualify for any public funds. This is one of the clearest examples of how the two major parties have used government resources to create and institutionalize a two party system.
End Straight Ticket Voting
Straight ticket voting is where voters select a political party at the top of the ballot which automatically counts a vote for all candidates of that party. Straight ticket voting seems like a good way to make voting go quicker but is really just a mechanism to reinforce a two-party system.
Problems with Straight Ticket Voting
- With Straight ticket voting, local elections become nationalized.
- Straight ticket voting hurts third party candidates and especially independents.
- “Minor party candidates and independent candidates are at a disadvantage with straight ticket voting. Candidates from lesser known parties are more likely to get consideration from voters if evaluated individually.” SB113 legislative analysis
- People suggest third party candidates should try running for local office (which we do) but with partisan local elections and straight ticket voting, the arguments against voting third party for village council become the same for president.
- Straight ticket voting encourages voters to not learn who their elected officials are.
Straight ticket voting was briefly overturned by State Legislature in 2015 but the repeal did NOT expand absentee voting. In 2016, the repeal was overturned by a federal judge. The Michigan Attorney General appealed the decision which the US Supreme Court declined to hear.
“In issuing the order, Drain said those who oppose the law are likely to win their lawsuit because banning straight-party voting would create longer waiting times and lines to vote. He said that would hurt all voters, but especially black voters, because data show the heaviest use of the straight-party option is in Michigan cities such as Detroit and Flint, which have large black populations.” Detroit Free Press, September 9, 2016
A repeal of straight ticket voting must be coupled with expanding the absentee voting program.
Bring Proportional Representation to the Michigan Legislature
Proportional Representation is a method of electing people to a legislative body so that the members are more representative of the voting public. Rather than selecting one candidate per district, like we currently do, in proportional representation voters select the political party they want to represent them and the seats in the legislature are apportioned based on how well that party does. If a party receives 10% of the vote, then that party will be awarded 10% of the seats. The actual people that will be selected to hold office will be chosen by either the voters (an “open” list method) or by the political party itself (the “closed” list method). The obvious drawback of such a system is that may voters lose a sense of constituency that comes with having one person represent your geographic area.
Mixed Member Proportional Representation: the best of both worlds.
There is a way of choosing members of a legislative body, called “mixed member proportional representation” that combines both of these methods. This type of voting system is how the seats in the German Parliament (Bundestag) are chosen and could be easily adapted to Michigan.
Michigan’s bicameral legislature is composed of a 110 member State House and a 38 member State Senate. Currently, Michigan voters cast two votes for State Legislature; one vote every two years for your representative in the State House and one vote every four years for your representative in the State Senate. In a MMP style system specific for Michigan, voters would still cast one vote for State Representative but their second vote, for State Senate, would be for the party they want to represent them.
Proportional Representation has many advantages over our current system
- PR is the only way to eliminate gerrymandering. As long as we elect legislative bodies by single member districts, drawing those district lines will be a political and demographic battle.
- PR will help traditionally disenfranchised voting groups such as independents, third party voters, racial minorities, women, and other groups that otherwise do not necessarily live in geographic proximity.
- PR assures the legislative body is as representative of the population as possible. Elections should be about representation, not about winning and losing.
- PR is the election reform to most likely to allow the seating of members of third parties.