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Opinion | Michigan is Ground Zero for threats to American democracy

Democracy in Michigan is under assault from Republicans.

The more visible front is the preposterous Big Lie, as Republican leaders relentlessly seek to nullify the votes of Michiganders in 2020. Lurking under the radar is a shameless partisan political ploy by our Republican legislature to utilize an obscure loophole to jam through new laws while locking out Michigan voters and the governor.

Jeff Alson
Jeff Alson is a retired engineer from Scio Township. (Courtesy photo)

Four years ago, Michigan was a model “laboratory of democracy” as Michigan voters overwhelmingly passed two landmark amendments to the Michigan constitution to expand voting rights and establish an independent commission to transfer redistricting from politicians to citizens, yielding new maps with greater partisan fairness and more competitive districts.

Over 5.5 million Michigan citizens voted in 2020, shattering the previous record by over 500,000 votes, and the 71 percent voting rate was a 60-year high.

But Michigan Republicans are prioritizing political power over participatory democracy, and the next six months will determine whether our state remains a laboratory – or instead turns into a morgue – of democracy.

Many state Republican party leaders and candidates want to overturn the 2020 vote that local election clerks of both parties and independent judges have deemed free, fair, and devoid of any meaningful fraud.

Meshawn Maddock, co-chair of the state Republican party, signed an affidavit falsely claiming that Donald Trump won our presidential election and that she was qualified to represent Michigan in the Electoral College.

Both Matt DePerno and Kristina Karamo, who recently won the Republican nominations for state attorney general and secretary of state, promote the Big Lie and want to invalidate the will of Michigan voters.

Most of the ten candidates running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination also support the Big Lie, and several are under investigation for submitting forged signatures in order to get on the August primary ballot.

While Michigan Republicans are transparent about their attempts to overturn the 2020 election, they are also pursuing a far more secretive and nefarious legislative strategy.

Michigan is one of only two states that has a constitutional provision that I call a petition-initiated legislative loophole (PILL), adopted at a time of much greater bipartisanship and shared democratic norms. Under this provision, if 8 percent of statewide voters (about 340,000) sign petitions, the petition language can go straight to the state legislature.

If both the state House and Senate approve the petition language, without changes, it becomes law. Shockingly, the petition language is not placed on the statewide ballot for voters to decide, and the new law, unlike other proposed legislation, is not subject to gubernatorial veto.

This cynical “poison PILL” is anti-democratic on its face. A mere 8 percent of voters, in concert with a still-gerrymandered legislature, can pass a new law while circumventing the other 92 percent of voters and a governor who was elected by statewide vote.

Michigan Republicans are currently gathering petition signatures for five initiatives:  a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election; to “decertify” the 2020 election; prohibit the mailing of absentee ballot applications and strip voters of the option to sign an affidavit to attest to their identity; establish public funding for private school vouchers; and limit the public health emergency powers of state and local officials.

The goals of ongoing petition drives provide a stark contrast between how organizers view democracy. The goal of every petition by Democratic and progressive groups is to put the petition language on the November ballot for voters to decide. That’s democracy.

In contrast, some, and maybe most, of the Republican and conservative petitions would likely be enacted by the Legislature, and explicitly not put on the November ballot and not reviewable by the governor. That’s a mockery of democracy.

Republicans are pulling a bait-and-switch on Michiganders, most of whom have no idea that signing the Republican petitions may well not lead to a statewide vote.

Be careful what you sign this spring and summer, and be careful who you vote for in November, because democracy is indeed on the ballot in Michigan.

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