Will Michigan's ballot proposals get out the vote in November?

Sep 7, 2012

It's official. There will be six questions on the state's November ballot: Five proposed amendments to the Michigan Constitution and one referendum on the state’s emergency manager law. And, we’re looking at some big battles here; we’ll certainly see a whole lot of money pouring into these efforts to change state law. In this week’s It’s Just Politics we take a look at how these ballot questions just might work as vote-drivers.

It’s a GOTV Kind of a Year

This year we have very few undecided voters – that group of anywhere from a third to even less than a quarter of the people that wait until the last minute to make up their minds. A lot of people don’t vote at all – in Michigan, about 40 percent of registered voters don’t actually make it to the polls. That’s referring, however, to the presidential race. In a presidential election year  that’s the biggest driver that gets people out to vote. There’s no doubt though that more people are still undecided about races and questions that are lower on the ballot. So, for many political strategists, the question becomes: what happens if you can somehow persuade some of those people to get out on Election Day?

Can Ballot Questions Get-Out-the-Vote?

Certainly, ballot questions are used to determine policy on issues. But they can also motivate people to get out and vote on issues they care about like same-sex marriage, affirmative action or abortion. This year, in Michigan, we have questions dealing with union rights and taxes. Democrats are pinning some of their electoral hopes on the Protect Our Jobs ballot question. The Protect Our Jobs proposal would guarantee bargaining rights, reverse a bunch of anti-union laws passed by the Legislature and Governor Snyder, and make sure there’s no way lawmakers could pass a right-to-work law in Michigan.

The (Anti) Labor Vote

Last year, Ohio delivered a thumping to Republicans by reversing a law that strictly limited the union rights of public employees.  Democrats, both statewide and nationally, looked at that and went, “Aha.” Michigan is a traditionally union-friendly state, even if most workers are not in a union. There’s hope on the part of Democrats that protecting collective bargaining rights might be enough to inspire some otherwise lackadaisical registered voters to actually become ballot-casters. However, there is not unanimity in the Democratic coalition about the wisdom of this approach. There’s some question as to whether a ballot question will get any more people out than a hotly contested presidential race.

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

Be Careful What You Wish For

Though many union-supporters are ecstatic that the Protect Our Jobs proposal made it on the November ballot it does have some union folks worried – what happens if it fails in November? The scenario is this: Not only does the Protect Our Jobs question fail to inspire enough supporters to get out and vote, but the failure also clears the way – gives political permission, in other words - for the state Legislature to pass a right-to-work law. This exact reasoning has some conservative businesspeople actually happy the proposal survived its court challenge and is on the ballot. They’re looking at labor and saying, “Be careful what you wish for.”