Since taking control of the state legislature in 2010, Michigan Republicans have redrawn district lines to create safer seats, passed a strict voter ID bill and pushed for other measures intended to make voter registration more difficult.
Today, the Republican-controlled state legislature held a second hearing on a bill that would change the way the state’s 16 electoral votes are awarded, giving more to the candidate that loses the popular vote in a presidential race.
But just one of the dozens of residents who testified before the Elections and Ethics Committee Tuesday spoke in favor of the measure, saying it “probably” would make Michigan more competitive, but emphasizing that moving to a pure popular vote and eliminating the Electoral College altogether would be preferable. In contrast, speaker after speaker argued against the bill, calling it a “folly,” a “sham,” and “a step backward for American democracy.”
Many of the residents testifying, who drove into Lansing from Ann Arbor, Detroit, and other cities, questioned the motive of the bill, calling it yet another a partisan effort to benefit Republicans.
“This dilutes the voice of Michigan’s population for political gain,” said Redford resident Brandon Jessup. “Breaks something that is not broken.”
Clarkston resident John Stilley admonished the committee: “Don’t take any actions that would further divide Michigan’s population along party lines.”
Stilley was one of several to compare the reform to the gerrymandering of political districts to benefit Republicans, which Michigan legislators did in conjunction with many other states following the Republican sweep of the 2010 elections.
Like gerrymandering, the electoral college reform proposal is based on “legislators wanting to pick their voters and manipulate the electorate,” Executive Director of Common Cause Michigan Melanie McElroy told ThinkProgress.
“Unfortunately what we see is elected officials trying to determine the outcome of the next election before we even know who the candidates are,” Sharon Dolente with the Michigan Election Coalition added.
Dolente emphasized that a previous version of the bill was much worse as it would have awarded the electoral votes by congressional district. Under the current gerrymandering, she said, “You don’t see the legislature able to come to compromising and solutions. They can’t find common ground because they’re in very extreme districts that makes them very isolated.” Extending this system’s power into the realm of the electoral college was a “really frightening approach,” she said.
Bill sponsor Pete Lund (R) has been pushing for swift passage of the bill in the few weeks he has left in office, arguing that it would force presidential candidates to visit the state more and work harder for votes.
But several residents, including Thomas Weeder of Ann Arbor, argued the bill would have the opposite effect. “This change could make Michigan have less influence than we do today,” he said. “The state’s electoral votes are a major prize only if they are awarded together. If you divvy them up, why would candidates come here? Why build a major state campaign organization just to pick up a handful of votes when a smaller effort would win more in a winner-take-all state?”
Weeder went on to criticize Lund’s revised formula for splitting up the electoral votes as “totally arbitrary” and “likely to confuse both voters and the media.”
“If it makes sense to award some votes on a popular basis, why not all of them?” he asked.
In another testimony, Melissa Brown from Lincoln Park added: “Why, if [candidates] are not coming here for 16 votes, would they come here for 8 or 9?”
Several government watchdog groups present, including Common Cause Michigan and the Michigan Election Coalition, agreed, telling ThinkProgress that Michigan shouldn’t experiment with a formula untested anywhere in the US. “We don’t need to be a guinea pig for this issue. It makes us nervous,” said McElroy. “And for something that’s this monumental of a change, you shouldn’t pass it through in a quick lame-duck session when public is paying even less attention than normal because of holidays. They should re-introduce next year, and have more public forums out in districts.”
Lund, who has no cosponsors on the bill, was not in attendance at the hearing, which ended without a vote or a clear path forward for the bill. McElroy and other voting rights advocates, who said they were not told there would be a hearing until the day before, told ThinkProgress they will try to be ready for anything, and will continue in the meantime to push for other voting reforms, such as allowing online voter registration and expanding early voting days.