Alexander Hamilton once said, “A share in the sovereignty of the state, which is exercised by the citizens at large, in voting at elections is one of the most important rights of the subject, and in a republic ought to stand foremost in the estimation of the law.” In Michigan, the citizens have incredible power to voice their opinion and influence the sovereignty of their state. Through initiative, Michiganders may propose either a constitutional amendment, which does not require state legislative approval before being placed on the ballot, or state statutes, which must first be submitted to the state legislature for approval before being placed on the ballot. In order to participate in the initiative process, Michigan does not even require that the petitioner register with the state, but rather only requires that the petitioner report campaign contributions in excess of $500. However, petitioners may submit their proposal to the Bureau of Elections in order to greatly reduce the chance that formatting errors will prevent the proposal from being accepted.
In order to qualify an initiative for the ballot, a petitioner must collect a number of signatures determined by the total number of votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election. Specifically, a petitioner must collect signatures equal to 10% of the votes cast to qualify a constitutional amendment and 8% for a state statue; those figures in 2016 are 315,654 and 252,532 signatures respectively. Once an initiative is on the ballot, it requires a simple majority of Michigan voters to approve it. Once approved, initiatives are quite safe from legislative tampering. If the measure passed is a statute, it requires a ¾ majority of the legislature to overturn it, or if it is a constitutional amendment, the legislature must follow the ordinary legislative process for amending the constitution.
The power of direct democracy which Michiganders possess, allows them to have great sway over the political climate in their state. There is no greater example of how Michiganders can affect their electoral climate than the Vote-By-Mail initiative, which aims to be on the 2016 ballot. Currently, Michigan only allows by-mail, absentee voting and only for those who are: (1) age 60 or older; (2) unable to vote without assistance at the polls; (3) expecting to be out of town on election day; (4) in jail awaiting arraignment or trial; (5) unable to attend the polls due to religious reasons; or (6) those who are appointed election inspectors outside of their precincts. However, with this initiative, should it get on the ballot, Michiganders will have an opportunity to change how by-mail voting works in their state and potentially open the door to much greater electoral participation.
The proposed Vote-by-Mail method would call for ballots to be sent out three or more weeks before the election (or cut-off) return date, usually after a voter pamphlet has been distributed. To vote by mail, registered voters mark the ballot or write in the name for their choice of candidates or proposed initiatives, places the completed form in the return mailing envelope provided, seals it, and then signs it on the back. According to proponents, three states already have some form of Vote-by-Mail option: Colorado, Oregon and Washington, and the measures in these states were adopted primarily to increase voter turnout. Michigan’s proposed change would come through constitutional amendment and, like the measures that came before it, was created as a means to affect low voter turnout, specifically stemming from the 2014 election.
The Vote-by-Mail initiative may be one of the greatest examples of how the voice and will of the people can influence democratic government and serves as a beacon in these times of low public participation in politics that the American democratic system remains vital and strong. With this initiative, voters proposed directly a way to make their voice heard. Then the entirety of the state will decide if their voice should be heard through the manner the initiative suggests. Finally, should the initiative pass, the voters will have the opportunity to cast votes through this new method and thus directly influence future governmental actions. Regardless if the measure passes or not, it is refreshing to see Michiganders have such a grand opportunity to influence the very foundation of their government. However, in these increasing times of voter apathy, granting greater access to the polls, making voting easier and less time consuming, and saving money on elections all serve to better the democratic process within Michigan and this initiative goes a long way toward making those goals a reality.