The three statewide proposals Michigan voters will see this fall closely mirror nationwide trends in what makes it to the ballot, according to an expert who tracks state ballot amendments across the country.
Nationwide, voters will be considering 97 ballot initiatives in 29 states. Of those, three are before Michigan voters: proposals to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana, to create an independent redistricting commission and to add a series of voting practices to the state Constitution.
Both in the number of proposals and their content, Michigan is “very much in the mainstream” when it comes to what proposed amendments made it to the ballot, said John Dinan, a politics professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina who studies nationwide trends in ballot initiatives.
Several states, including Oregon, Washington and Colorado, have already established recreational marijuana markets after taking the issue to the ballot. And this year, Ohio voters already approved a redistricting amendment, and voters in Colorado, Missouri and Utah will also consider whether to implement a redistricting commission.
Other states are considering various tweaks to voting and election reform, including proposals to implement same-day registration, voter identification requirements and stricter campaign finance rules. Michigan’s Proposal 3 backed by the group Promote the Vote is broader in scope, attempting to implement same-day registration, no-reason absentee voting and other voting requirements into the state constitution.
“The types of issues appearing on the Michigan ballot this year are well in keeping with recent trends,” Dinan said. “The same issues that are bubbling up in Michigan are also prominent in other states as well.”
Dinan said broad trends among ballot measure topics often reflect issues that are popular with people, but less so among state legislators, adding marijuana and redistricting questions that have come up in other states have for the most part been successful.
“Oftentimes, people have resorted to the ballot process because they’ve been unsuccessful in the legislature,” he said.
Where Michigan most differs from other states with a ballot amendment process this year is in what voters won’t see.
Two proposals – one of which would gradually raise Michigan’s minimum wage to $12 an hour and include tipped workers; another which would mandate employers let workers earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked – were legislative initiatives, which means lawmakers had the right of first refusal on the petition.
Last week, lawmakers approved both initiatives, but with a catch. Republican lawmakers have said they plan to amend the ballot language in the lame duck session after the November election, something the initiative’s supporters and many legal experts say is unconstitutional.
Legislative leadership has not yet said publicly what or how they would change the proposals, just that they believe the language is flawed and needs revision.
Michigan is one of nine states that uses the indirect initiative process for proposed changes to state statute – that is, allowing the state legislature to consider the proposal before it goes to the ballot – according to the Initiative and Referendum Institute of the University of Southern California.
Under this process, lawmakers generally have the option of letting the proposal go to the ballot, pass the measure or come up with an alternative measure and allow voters to choose between the two.
The route Michigan lawmakers are currently proposing is in an “unusual gray area” that will likely be decided in the courts, Dinan said.
“It’s uncharted territory – it’s not entirely clear whether the legislature is acting properly,” he said.