Diary

Bureau of Elections fails to describe RMGN in 100 words (but will 129 do?)

Cross-posted on Right Michigan at www.RightMichigan.com.

I give Chris Thomas and the team at the Michigan Bureau of Elections a heck of a lot of credit.  It really is a fantastic department they’ve got over there… well run, professional, courteous, always on-time.  Good guys.  Yesterday they did what they’re paid to do, verifying signatures and working out, as best they could, a way to describe the Reform Michigan Government Now ballot proposal in 100 words.  Team BOE doesn’t get paid to make political or legal judgments or to throw their hands up and say “it’s impossible.”  They’re paid to do the very best they can.  And they did.

Shocking, though, how woefully inadequate the very best from one of the state’s best run departments can be.  No reflection on Thomas and his staff.  It doesn’t take a vivid imagination to see them pulling their hair out when they wrote this one-hundred word summary, knowing they were never going to be able to pull it off.  But try they had to and try they did.  Yeoman’s job, if colossally inadequate.  

Late yesterday afternoon we got the official ballot-box summary that’s designed to tell voters on election day exactly what it is for which they’re filling in that scantron bubble.  

Thirty-six (at least) CONSTITUTIONAL changes (as opposed to tweaks to the weekend parking code) contained in an eleven column, fold-out style, eight page, fine-print document.  And the summary reads like this:

Read on…

“A PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE STATE CONSTITUTION TO ALTER THE LEGISLATIVE, EXECUTIVE AND JUDICIAL BRANCHES OF STATE GOVERNMENT

The proposed constitutional amendment would:

*    Require no-reason absentee voting.

*    Limit election officials’ support of candidates.

*    Create separate Office of Elections to supervise elections.

*    Create direct initiation of laws by petition.

*    Reduce number of Senate and House districts.

*    Establish bipartisan commission and standards for creating legislative districts; prohibit state court review of districts.

*    Prohibit former elected officials from lobbying for 2 years.

*    Reduce salaries, limit retirement benefits and disclose personal finances of legislative, executive and judicial officials.

*    Disclose Legislature’s financial records.

*    Limit state departments to 18; cap boards/commissions.

*    Reduce size of Supreme Court and Appeals Court; add circuit judges.

*    Transfer discipline of judges to new commission.

Should this proposal be adopted?”

Three problems:  

A) Now, let me preface this by saying, again, that I am not a math genius, but that’s more than 100 words.  If you just count the bullet-points and consider hyphenated words one word instead of two you’re already up to 101.  Include the introduction and final question (“should this proposal be adopted?”) and you’re at 111.  Toss in the all-caps header and you’re at 129.  All of the words BoE submitted count towards the 100 word limit.

So we’ve got a 100 word summary that’s 129 words long.  Umm…. oops?  Sorry kids, nice try.

B) Those 129 words in their 100 word ballot description?  They don’t tell us much.  Oh, we’re being asked to change the constitution?  By reducing the size of the Supreme Court and Appeals Court and adding new circuit court judges?  Umm… OK.  How many of each?  

We’re being asked to change the constitution to limit election officials’ support of political candidates?  Umm… OK.  In what way?  And who qualifies as an elections official?

We’re being asked to reduce the number of Senate and House Districts?  In the constitution?  Umm… OK.  By how many in each chamber?

These aren’t minor details and legal minutia.  This is basic, serious, fundamental, state altering stuff.  But it’s not located anywhere in those 129 words.

C) Generously that list describes eighteen to twenty of the thirty-six constitutional changes.  That leaves sixteen to eighteen… let me say it again… CONSTITITIONAL CHANGES… completely off the ballot even though voters will be asked to vote on them.

Nothing listed about the changes to jury pool selection requirements.  

Nothing listed about restrictions on illegal aliens.

Nothing about the changes to the Mackinac Bridge Authority.

Nothing about limitations to citizens legal rights to sue over environmental damages.

Nothing about the staggering of state Senate terms.

Nothing about the fraudulent collection of petition signatures (something addressed, ironically, in this fraudulently circulated petition).

Nothing about the creation of partisan and “safe” legislative seats.

The list, literally, goes on and on.  Needless to say, this would be setting a pretty scary precedent.  Should this language appear on the ballot in November voters would be casting votes on things for which they haven’t even been asked to cast a vote.

Imagine that MDP and Big Labor got together and spent millions on a ballot question that altered jury pool selection processes, changed the Mackinac Bridge Authority, altered rights to sue, changed the way the entire state legislature is elected, gerrymandered the whole state with a radical new procedure no one had ever heard about or witnessed before and altered petition signature gathering requirements.  In the Constitution.  (Note, they did.)

Now imagine they put these changes on the ballot with the following wording and nothing else:

“YES

NO  

The sad part is… that “yes” and “no” would already represent two more words devoted to those changes than the current 129 word 100 word ballot language devotes.

Call me crazy, but I like the idea of telling voters what they’re being asked to alter (and how) when we’re talking about THE FREAKING CONSTITUTION!