Law-making statute needs reforming

To the Journal editor:

Only 24 states, including Michigan, offer its citizens direct democracy, that is the right to place proposals for new laws on the ballot that become law if enough petition signatures are obtained and a majority of voters approve.

Direct democracy bypasses the normal legislative process to make important reforms and common-sense legislation that a divided and dysfunctional government in Lansing would not pass.

Common-sense citizen ballot measures that passed include the 10-cents bottle bill, sale tax exemption on food, the redistricting commission that ends gerrymandering and the popular 2018 voting access constitutional amendment.

However, Michigan’s direct democracy system has one flaw. It allows a citizens’ petition-drive to bypass the ballot if both chambers of the legislature adopt the proposal. By allowing only a small percentage of voters who sign a petition to make laws — if adopted by the legislature — the maneuver is a recipe for undemocratic minority rule.

It deprives the entire electorate of the right to decide on petition-drive measures. This is what happened in Lansing. Last year, Unlock Michigan collected 460,000 valid signatures–representing only 4.6% of Michigan’s 10 million voters for a measure that repeals the 1945 Emergency Powers Act, the law that the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used last year to issue COVID restrictions.

The repeal measure became law after it was recently adopted in the Michigan House and Senate, all Republicans voting for repeal and most Democrats voting against. The legislature should have rejected the repeal proposal so that it could be placed on the ballot for all Michigan’s voters to decide, not just the 4.6% signing the petition.

Was the GOP afraid the public would side with the governor? Maybe. Encouraged by this success, GOP leaders are now planning to use this same slick maneuver to adopt their voter suppression legislation that Whitmer has promised to veto. (Craig Mauger, Detroit News — March 26).

All the GOP has to do is solicit 340,000 petition signatures and turn it over to their lawmakers. Make sure you decline to sign such a petition if you are approached. What if the tables were turned and the Democrats controlled the legislature vis-a-vis a Republican governor? Democratic lawmakers could use this same undemocratic petition maneuver to bypass the Republican governor’s veto and pass Democratic proposals.

It is time to stop this affront to democracy and close the loophole in Michigan’s direct democracy system. A citizen’s petition drive to amend the Constitution is needed.

Robert Anderson



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