Report: Voting Reforms Make Michigan a National Model for Strengthening Democracy 

Poll workers assist voters at a precinct in Delhi Township on the day of the state’s primary election in 2022. (AP Photo/Mike Householder)

By Michigan Advance

June 16, 2023

BY JON KING, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

A report released Thursday by the left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) highlights Michigan’s election and voting reforms that, in turn, have resulted in increased public trust in government.

The report, “How Michigan Became a Blueprint for Strengthening Democracy,” notes three key components it says have made Michigan a national model for strengthening democracy:

  • Increasing voter registration and turnout and closing the racial gap in voter participation by implementing numerous voting and registration options via Proposal 3 of 2018 and Proposal 2 of 2022
  • Ending partisan gerrymandering through an independent redistricting commission via Proposal 2 of 2018
  • Promoting citizen-initiated ballot measures—particularly constitutional amendments—to increase direct democracy and enact popular policies

“While some states have struggled to implement meaningful reforms—and many have moved in the wrong direction by restricting access to the ballot box—Michigan has proved that transformational change can be accomplished in just a few short years,” states the report. “The state has strengthened its democratic institutions and, in the process, managed to close voter participation gaps to ensure that participation is high among all citizens, especially those who have been historically disenfranchised.”

One of the authors of the report is Greta Bedekovics, CAP’s associate director of democracy, who told the Michigan Advance that a key part of Michigan’s success was the ability of voters to amend its Constitution.

“One of the things that we looked at for this report was how citizen initiated amendments fully transformed Michigan’s democracy, and to look at the effects of the policies that were passed,” she said. “We looked at increases in voter registration and voter turnout, and we saw increases in both.”

Key to that success, according to the report, were three ballot proposals in the last five years that authorized key election and representation reforms.

In 2018, voters passed both Proposal 2, which created the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC), and Proposal 3, which added no-reason absentee voting, automatic voter registration and straight-ticket voting, among other voting reforms. Then in 2022, voters OK’d Proposal 2, which created a minimum of nine days of early voting, provides prepaid postage for certain election documents and requires absent voter drop boxes. 

All three measures were approved by at least 60% of the vote.

The report notes that while Michigan did not pioneer these reforms, the state was “exemplary” because it managed to approve and implement them in a relatively short period of time.

“Michigan officials were just fantastic in implementing them so quickly,” said Bedekovics. “We noted online voter registration, which was approved by the legislature, only took nine months [to implement] after enactment. That is extremely quick.”

Another of the pillars focused on in the report was Michigan’s ability to end partisan gerrymandering.

While a 2017 report by the Brennan Center for Justice determined Michigan was among the three states with the “most extreme levels of partisan bias” in the country, the CAP report indicated that bias had largely disappeared through the creation of the MICRC. This was demonstrated in how vote shares translated to seats in 2018, before the commission went into effect, and then in 2022, the first election in which the commission’s maps were put to use. 

In the 2018 midterm election, although Democratic candidates for the Michigan House won 190,000 more votes than Republican candidates, Republicans won 58 seats compared with the 52 seats Democrats won. This produced an efficiency gap of 10%. The Michigan Senate that year had a 12% efficiency gap.

The efficiency gap is a statistical measure of gerrymandering. Anything below 7% indicates that no party is substantively advantaged by a set of maps.

In 2022, experts calculated that the efficiency gap of the new maps was below 3%. In that election, when Democrats took control of both the Michigan House and Senate for the first time in about 40 years. 

“Obviously, the redistricting commission is important because it creates a legislature,” said Bedekovics. “They’re more representative of the people who can then also pass policies. They’re more representative of what the people are wanting.”

Bedekovics said what really struck researchers was Michigan’s ability to close the gap in voter registration and turnout between white voters and Black voters. 

“That gap exists in almost all states, and Michigan really was able to bring black voter and registration rates up to that of white voters, which is fantastic,” she said.

The report quotes census data that shows the number of Black Michiganders registered to vote increased by 17.5% from 2018 to 2022, far surpassing the increase in voter registration for white Michiganders during that same period and bringing the voter registration rate of Black Michiganders up to par with the rate of white Michiganders. By comparison, the voter registration rate of Black voters across the country over that same period increased by only .3%.

“This large increase in the voter registration rate among Black Michigan voters indicates that the additional voter registration methods enacted were successful at reaching people who were otherwise not captured by more traditional voter registration methods,” the report concluded.

The report concludes that the overall result of these reforms has been to build and maintain public confidence in the state’s democracy and election administration. 

According to a voter survey conducted by the Detroit Regional Chamber in December 2022, 60% of Michigan voters said that they were feeling optimistic about democracy at large, with 75.3% approving of the way the state handled the November 2022 election, while only 11.8% said they disapproved. In addition, voters across the political spectrum also strongly approved of the administration of the election, with 83.5% approving of the way they cast their vote. 

Bedekovics said having implemented numerous voting reforms in the leadup to the 2022 election, Michigan voters’ strong approval of election administration demonstrates their success. 

“I think the thing that we really set out to do was to show that even in these divisive times, when a lot of these standard middle of the road voting measures and policies are being politicized, there is support for them, both in theory and in implementation across the political spectrum,” she said. “You’re just trying to take out the argument that these are inherently political in any way, and that they really should be about pro-democracy reforms.”

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license.

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