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Ballotpalooza comes to Michigan

The group that oversees what goes on our ballots approved language for three more potential ballot proposals for next year. There’s no guarantee that any or all of these will get enough signatures to be certified for the ballot, of course.

Some could also be headed off by potential legislative action. But when you consider that these come in addition to possibly as many as three marijuana proposals, and who knows what else in the works, we could be looking at a potential ballot the size of a bed sheet.

An election which, as Michigan Radio’s Zoe Clark likes to say, would be a real “ballotpalooza.” Over the years I’ve had the chance to chat with a number of delegates to Michigan’s last constitutional convention, which convened 54 years ago.

Sadly, most are now dead. But one thing on which they agreed was that nobody foresaw how often the ballot would be clogged up with various proposals. They thought there might be one or two every few years on matters of intense citizen concern.

What they didn’t see coming was a culture in which special interests of all sorts would open their wallets to pay for signatures to get proposals on the ballot. Having the people vote on proposal after proposal may sound like a wonderful exercise in democracy.

But it’s really not. It is surgery by sledgehammer. I am fairly well educated and my job is to pay attention to civic affairs. And yet I sometimes don’t have enough knowledge to cast a vote on some of the proposals that have been showing up on Michigan ballots.

Neither does almost anyone else. There’s also an interesting psychological dynamic that seems to kick in here: put more than three proposals on the ballot, and voters are pretty much guaranteed to vote no on all of them.

I think this is a form of subconscious self-preservation: When in doubt, just say no.

And virtually everyone is bound to have serious doubts, especially if they walk into a voting booth and see a forest of complex questions in often arcane language.

However, there is one proposal I hope does get on the ballot, and which I would enthusiastically support. That is the petition by a group called Let’s Vote Michigan, which would convert us to voting mainly by mail. Now the organizers of this drive haven’t yet worked out exactly how this would work, which was painfully apparent yesterday.

What they should have done is merely copied what they do in Oregon or Washington State, which have had this method for years. It is, in fact, the only system that makes sense nowadays. If we are going to be asked to vote for more than a dozen candidates and decide a large group of ballot proposals, we need to be sitting at our kitchen tables to do it.

Otherwise, we are going to keep making uninformed decisions and electing people with familiar names to offices they may not be suited to fill. Frankly, I’d rather not decide tax rates or paid sick leave.

That’s what we pay our elected representatives to do. But if we’re going to have to do that, we need the time and space to do it as intelligently as possible.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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