In a Detroit Free Press interview, Former Attorney General Frank Kelley talks about the state of democracy in Michigan and his fears of voter apathy. He recognizes that the biggest problems are the levels of corporate money being spent on elections intimidating voters into thinking their vote doesn’t matter, and also the anti-government rhetoric of the tea party convincing people cooperating with the government is consorting with the enemy.
Kelley believes eventually voter apathy will turn around in the state, except the electoral system in Michigan has been skewed deliberately to create an artificial Republican majority. Districts are gerrymandered to favor Republican candidates so much that even when a majority of Democratic voters cast a ballot, the Republican candidates still hang on to their seats. Michigan has no early voting like other states, and many people are unable to make it to the polls because they can’t get time off from work.
The democracy pendulum needs some help swinging back, and that will only happen with reforming the voting process. In Oregon and Washington, vote by mail has become the method by which everyone in the state participates in elections. Three weeks before election day, registered voters receive their ballot in the mail. They have until election day to go over the ballot, learn about the candidates and any ballot proposals and vote at home. The ballot needs to be put in the mail no later than the Wednesday before election day. For those who miss that deadline, there are state-wide drop off stations where people can take their ballot. They have until 8 pm on election day to turn it in and have their ballot counted.
Benefits of voting this way include saving millions on running elections on the state, ballots are counted as they come in. Candidates and voters can call in and see how many have voted and if their ballots have been counted yet. No more waiting in line at the polls, no more trying to get time off from work on election day to stand in line. The most important benefit of all is the increased participation. Oregon enjoys 80% voter turnout during presidential elections, and slightly lower numbers during midterms. Midterm numbers are still much higher than in any other state in the country.
The only disadvantage any one may bring up to voting by mail is security of the ballots. This has never been a problem with the voting system Oregon uses. The ballots are more secure in the mail than at a polling station and voter fraud in Oregon (as in every other state in the country, despite Republicans insisting otherwise), is virtually nonexistent.
A ballot initiative to make Michigan a vote-by-mail state may be part of the solution to voter apathy and disenfranchisement. Gerrymandered districts, people working long hours, and Republican controlled governments making it harder to vote are enough to discourage anyone. What if all of those barriers were eliminated, and your ballot came to your house by mail? The first year Oregon used their new vote-by-mail system during a presidential general election, the turnout was over 50%. If Michigan had 50% voter turnout in 2016 or even 2018, it could be enough to bring democracy back to the state and empower more people to get involved.