For most potential Michigan voters, the main concern stepping into the voting booth on Nov. 6 will be deciding the men and women they want to represent them in Washington, Lansing and at their local city hall.
However, the decision to mark the box labeled “yes” or “no” next to each of the six state proposals on this year’s ballot can have just as massive an impact as the people who are elected into office. Combined with the numerous proposals on the docket here in Kalamazoo, it’s clear that voters have a lot of information to digest over the next six weeks before election day.
Michigan is one of 24 states in the nation that allows for citizens to propose constitutional amendments and other changes to state law via direct election. Previous elections have seen the passage of many sweeping changes to state laws, including Michigan State Proposal 04–2, which banned same-sex marriages and civil unions in the state.
“In general, it’s a bit of an unusual way to make public policy, but it’s not uncommon either,” said John Clark, the head of WMU’s political science department. “The issues that get on the ballot don’t always have wide public support, or the support of Michigan lawmakers.”
In order for a citizen-initiated proposal to make it on the state ballot, the creators must gather a certain amount of signatures from other Michigan residents. This number is determined by the number of votes cast for governor in the prior election cycle. This year, each proposal had to clear at least 250,000 signatures in order to qualify.
“In some ways it’s a fairly high number of signatures, but given the size of the state it’s not all that daunting,” Clark said.
One of the main reason’s for the deluge of proposals on the typical Michigan ballet is due to the actions of private interest groups, who are behind the creation and signature gathering of nearly every initiative that makes it on the ticket.
“There’s money often behind these initiatives,” Clark said. “Those same deep pockets can buy ads or run a full fledged campaign.”
The proposals on this year’s ballet are, in order:
- Proposal 12–1: Referendum on the Emergency Managers Act: Voters will be asked whether they want to continue to keep the Emergency Mangers Act on the law books. If voters select “yes,” the law will remain on the books. If they vote “no,” the law will be revoked. The Emergency Managers Act, which was passed last year, allows for state approved managers to temporarily run financially insecure school districts and city governments, was a source of much controversy last year.
- Proposal 12–2: Amendment to the Michigan constitution regarding collective bargaining: Voters will be asked to amend the state constitution to allow workers the unconditional right to organize labor unions. The proposed amendment would also invalidate any existing or future state laws that limit collective bargaining, or prevent workers from striking. However, the amendment doesn’t afford the same strike protection to public employees.
- Proposal 12–3: Amendment to the Michigan constitution to establish a standard for renewable energy: Voters will be asked to amend the state constitution to create a clause that would require electric utilities to provide at least 25 percent of their annual sales from renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar power. The amendment would encourage alternative energy companies to use Michigan equipment and Michigan manpower as well.
- Proposal 12–4: Amendment to the Michigan constitution to establish collective bargaining rights for home health care workers: Voters will be asked to vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow the Michigan Quality Home Care Council and in-home care workers to bargain collectively. Under the new law, the MQHCC would provide training for in-home care workers as well as a number of other important services.
- Proposal 12–5: Amendment to the Michigan constitution to limit the enactment of new taxes by state lawmakers: Voters will be asked to amend the constitution to restrict any new tax laws proposed in the Michigan House of Representatives or Senate without a 2/3 vote or a statewide vote by the public. No existing tax laws will be affected if this proposal is voted into law.
- Prospoal 12–6: Amendment to the Michigan constitution regarding the construction of international bridges and tunnels: Voters will be asked to pass an amendment that will require a majority statewide vote before the state government can fund the construction of new international bridges or tunnels. In addition, a majority of voters in each municipality affected by the construction must also approve any potential projects before the state can authorize them.
A number of Michigan voter advocacy and think-tank organizations are doing their part to inform the public about just what each state proposal entails, and the potential changes they make on the future of the state.
One such group, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, has created a website that provides coverage for five of the six proposals on this year’s ballot. Although the group states they are non-partisan, their researchers have weighed in on at least two of the proposals, encouraging voters to vote “no” on the second and fourth proposals.
“All these proposals are going to have some sort of impact, two and four in particular would have the biggest impact,” said Ted O’Neil, a spokesperson with the center.
Another state organization, the Michigan League of Responsible Voters, created a ballot initiative guide which encourages voters to pass proposals two, three and four, claiming that the trio of proposals would help create and protect state jobs. On the other hand, the organization condemns proposals one and five, stating that they undermine democracy and would be a detriment to local government organizations.
It’s not just state proposals that voters will have to contend with on Election Day, though. At least seven local proposals to amend the Kalamazoo city charter are currently approved to go on the local ballets, said Clyde Robinson, the city’s attorney.
Six of these initiatives were passed by the city commission over the last couple of months, and approved by state Attorney General Bill Schuette and Governor Rick Snyder for the Kalamazoo public to decide in November. These proposed changes are mostly housekeeping in nature, such as removing ordinances that require a general distribution newspaper to be published within the city limits (the Kalamazoo Gazette is currently published in Grand Rapids).
The seventh local proposal, which would require the city to have at least three dispensaries for medical marijuana, was selected by local citizens via petition, said Robinson. However, the legality of such establishments has been debated by state courts recent months, leaving questions as to whether or not the amendment will be upheld even if it’s voted in.
“If approved by the city’s citizens, the proposal is entered into the charter,” Robinson said. “Just because its in the charter doesn’t mean its enforceable by law, though.”
This isn’t the first time the citizens of Kalamazoo have dealt with proposals dealing with marijuana. Last year, voters passed an addition to the charter that required the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety to make arrests for procession of marijuana for people under 21 years old the lowest priority for enforcement.
While these initiatives can be quite divisive for special interest groups, research firms and amongst the voters themselves, experts on both sides of the aisle agree that the public should do their homework and make the best decision for themselves when it comes time to cast their votes.
“The voters have some pretty major decisions to make that could fundamentally change the way our state is governed,” O’Neil said. “People should make themselves informed before voting.”
UPDATE: This story has been edited since its initial posting, in order to clarify the current legal status of medical marijuana dispensaries in Michigan.
UPDATE 2: Added additional information about proposal six.