by Nicole Ault and Carmel Kookogey
Michigan’s three ballot proposals passed in Tuesday’s election, though Hillsdale County voters weren’t on board with two of them.
Nearly 52 percent of Hillsdale County voters affirmed Proposal 3, which will change several voting policies, and add an allowance for same-day voter registration. But 53 percent of the county voted no on Proposal 1, which legalized recreational marijuana throughout the state of Michigan, and nearly 48 percent voted against Proposal 2, which creates an independent redistricting commission.
Mayor Adam Stockford expressed concern that the new proposals only serve to further complicate Michigan law. Proposal 2 and 3 together add 9,000 words to the Michigan state constitution.
“In my personal view, more complicated laws are never a good thing for people,” Stockford said.
Recreational marijuana is now legal — but Hillsdale has options
Though recreational marijuana will remain legal statewide regardless, the city of Hillsdale could opt out of allowing businesses to sell marijuana by a simple majority vote of the city council, Stockford said.
The Hillsdale City Council is currently looking into the potential impacts of the legalization of recreational marijuana dispensaries and the legislation that might be required to opt out, said Hillsdale City Manager David Mackie.
Stockford said the city has hired a firm to help it through that process. The new state law will go into effect in 10 days.
“As far as businesses go, the state has given the option to opt out, to say at least for right now we don’t want marijuana businesses within city limits,” Stockford said, comparing the situation to allowing a gentleman’s club or a casino to be brought in. “I don’t see the city of Hillsdale being ready to want to cater to businesses like this.”
Stockford said he doesn’t think the legalization will have an impact one way or another, although perhaps the area might see an influx of people from Ohio and Indiana, where recreational marijuana remains illegal.
“No one’s going to be stopped from exercising their individual rights,” Stockford said. “I don’t think it’s going to have a big impact one way or another.”
But Scott Hephner, the police and fire chief for the City of Hillsdale, said he has great concerns from a law enforcement perspective. Drugged driving, youth overdoses, and crime rates have increased negatively in places such as Colorado that have legalized the drug recreationally.
As fire chief, he said, he’s also concerned about more residential fires as a result of high-wattage light bulbs used for growing marijuana, and butane used to extract oil from marijuana.
“I foresee law enforcement still being heavily involved in marijuana, just in a different way,” he said, adding that he doubts the argument that law enforcement will have more time.
Eric Leutheuser said it will likely take a while before regulation and licensing roll out.
“Frankly, I expect you’ll see a lot more people using it,” Leutheuser said.
‘Nonpartisan commission’ to redraw Michigan districts
The second proposal on the ballot was a measure to set up a nonpartisan commission to redraw Michigan’s district lines every 10 years. The proposal passed with 61 percent of the vote in Michigan, according to ABCNews 12, though it was defeated by a slim margin in Hillsdale County. The commission will be composed of 13 members, randomly selected from the Michigan population.
“Proposal 2 was most confusing because it sounded fair on the surface,” Leutheuser said. “Maybe it will be.”
Leutheuser said the proposal would take effect after the 2020 census, and after that, the Michigan secretary of state will solicit people to be on the commission.
Associate Professor of Politics Kevin Portteus said in an email that this proposition will put redistricting in the hands of these private citizens, “without regard for their competency” to make these decisions.
“The complexity of redistricting means that the commissioners will likely become the pawns of the secretary of state, who possesses the resources and expertise to ‘assist’ them in their work,” Portteus said. “It is highly likely that the secretary of state will effectively become the de facto district drawer for all legislative offices in Michigan.”
Portteus pointed out that the newly-elected Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, wrote a book arguing for the importance of state secretaries of state in 2010, entitled “State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process.”
“She now has the tool to draw Democrat-friendly districts in Michigan, and to claim later that it was fair and nonpartisan,” Portteus said.
Professor of Politics Thomas West agreed that Proposal 2 will likely create a biased commission.
“Commissions like that are almost always a disaster for Republicans,” West said. “They typically are taken over and run by smart liberals, who tend to run circles around the well-intentioned Republicans who are usually easily taken in by non-partisan language thrown at them by their political opponents.”
Hillsdale College College Democrats President Madeleine Hedrick said she thinks passing Proposal 2 was a good idea, and said she hopes it will combat voter fraud by allowing people to be more accurately represented.
“I think if you want to talk about voter fraud, there’s fraud being committed against voters by gerrymandering, which strips people of really their right to choose their own representatives, because their voices aren’t being accurately heard,” Hedrick said. “That disenfranchises Democrats, that disenfranchises Republicans, it’s bad for everyone. So I think Proposal 2 is great.”
Michigan passes a proposal to allow same-day registration
Proposal 3, the only one of the three proposals which did pass in Hillsdale County on Tuesday, was a measure which allows voters to register to vote on the same day that they cast their ballots. Within the proposal were several subcategories, three of which were already Michigan statutes, according to Leutheuser.
He explained that these pre-existing statutes were added to Proposal 3 “like a little pumpkin spice, to make it more appetizing.”
Hillsdale County Clerk Marney Kast said in an email that she is not sure of the impact of the proposal but has doubts about it.
“I have not had the time to investigate the cost, let alone the effects on the passage of Proposal 3 in our county,” Kast said. “I do know that my association – Michigan Association of County Clerks – has wanted the ‘No Reason Absent Voter’ for years, but to have it combined with everything else is not a good thing.”
Some concern with allowing voters to register and vote on the same day is that without a period of time in between to verify voters’ eligibility, voter fraud may increase substantially. Stockford said he thinks this is “absolutely” a possibility.
Either way, Stockford said, allowing citizens to register and vote on the same day creates “a lot more work for election commission and county commission and volunteers who help on election day.”
Part of a bigger picture
Ballot proposals have become more popular in recent years, Leutheuser said. According to Ballotpedia, Americans in 37 states voted on 155 statewide ballot measures this election.
“The larger story is how ballot proposals are now this sort of response to the fact that Republicans have had both chambers and governorships in a majority of states,” he said, adding that people have found ballot proposals to be a cost-effective way of changing policy.
The more widespread use of ballot proposals means people need to be “better educated and more cautious,” he said. “Stay on your toes.”
They likely won’t fade away in the coming years, either, Leutheuser added.
“Being successful on those three will probably inspire more activism and petition gathering in the future,” he said. “And not just in Michigan.”