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Just how many ballot questions will you be voting on in November? Good question...

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

In 270 days – come Election Day 2014 – it’s not just candidates you’ll be voting for, there are likely to be plenty of ballot questions, too. And, much like 2012, when there were half a dozen ballot questions, we might just see a repeat of Ballot-o-palooza.

Ballot questions can sometimes get people who might not be super-invested in voting for a candidate to actually get out and vote for a particular issue. For example, 2004, when a slew of anti-gay marriage ballot proposals may very well have helped George W. Bush win reelection.

But it’s not easy to get ballot questions passed. Voters tend to shy away from passing new laws via ballot. In fact, if you don’t start out with more than a 60% approval of your question, the chances are you won’t win come Election Day.

In 2012, $154 million dollars were spent on ballot questions and yet all six were defeated.

Which raises the issue: Money spent on ballot questions is often money that would otherwise be spent on other campaigns. Thus, the decision to go to the ballot with a certain issue raises lots of questions: Is it the best use of money, personnel, volunteers? How will it affect turnout – that’s if it affects turnout at all.

What will this year’s dynamic be?

Well, look for news early next week on the minimum wage ballot drive that would initiate a law raising Michigan’s minimum wage to somewhere between $9 and $10 an hour.

The minimum wage question will be closely watched not just because it’s sort of the marquee issue right now in the big national debate about economic disparity, but also for its potential to drive turnout.

And, just yesterday, two new petition drives were approved by the Board of State Canvassers. The first would make Michigan’s state House and Senate go part-time and, the second is a petition drive to change the rules for petition drives. It would preempt any efforts in the Legislature to outlaw the controversial practice of paying professional petition circulators by the signature. It would also allow petition drives to recruit or hire out-of-state circulators.

The part-time Legislature question is pretty sweeping, too. Lawmakers would be in session for just 60 days out of the year, which would seriously slow down lawmaking. Every time a bill is amended or a new version is introduced, it would have to be posted online for five days before the state House or Senate could vote on it. And, if you think back to how the right-to-work bill was passed (a new version was substituted in the state Senate, and voted on the same day) this would have slowed down that train.

Unions and progressives may be intrigued by that aspect but they aren’t likely to get excited about making the Legislature part-time. It’s a bit too much like term limits, which certainly cost them a lot of influence.

Meantime, there are two other ballot drives in the field already collecting signatures. One of them is a second referendum on wolf hunting, the new law passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Snyder, to circumvent the referendum already on the ballot that stalled the first wolf-hunting law.

And get this: There’s another petition drive to effectively challenge that ballot drive with an initiative to pass a different law to make it easier for the state Natural Resources Commission to adopt new hunting seasons. Head spinning yet? It’s ballot question versus ballot question.

All of these questions together create a big old mix of political ideology. We could see libertarians voting for a part-time Legislature, Democrats and Republicans turning out to vote over wolf management and hunters’ rights and, progressives in favor of an increase to the minimum wage.

If your head isn’t spinning…. you’re not paying attention.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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