LANSING—Michigan legislative candidates are using a new web site to investigate the voting records of their opponents, or just to better follow and understand complex legislation. MichiganVotes.org, a website offered as a free public service by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, gives concise, plain-language descriptions of every bill, amendment and vote that takes place in the Michigan Legislature, searchable by legislator, bill number, category, or keyword.
“This site is one-stop shopping for opposition research,” said state Rep. Robert Gosselin, R-Troy. “It’s the best way to find how my opponent voted on important bills.” Gosselin is challenging state Sen. Shirley Johnson, R-Royal Oak, in the 13th district primary election on Aug. 6.
Candidates who are not running against incumbents also find the site useful.
“MichiganVotes.org lets me follow the daily developments in the state Senate,” says candidate Brennan Brown of Ortonville, who is running for the open seat in the 26th Senate district. “It sheds sunshine on tricky maneuvers intended to insulate lawmakers from accountability.”
As an example of the latter, Brown referred to recent action on Senate Bill 117 and House Bill 5883, which legislative insiders generally agree were designed to give legislators “cover” from angry taxpayers as they postponed previously enacted business tax cuts. MichiganVotes.org clearly explained the meaning of each change in these bills as they worked their way to final passage.
Referring to the same bills, Gosselin said he wishes more voters used MichiganVotes.org. “Legislators wouldn’t get away with this kind of game if citizens used this site more. It levels the playing field between the people and Lansing insiders.”
Another candidate running for an open seat, Cindy Berry of Chesterfield Township, says MichiganVotes.org lets her follow key votes on land-use bills important to her Macomb County area.
“The media doesn’t always cover these issues, but they have a dramatic effect on people’s lives and property,” Berry said. “The site lets anyone quickly find easily understandable descriptions of important legislation.”
Berry is running for the 32nd state House district. She mentioned House Bill 4995 as one she has used MichiganVotes.org to follow. Now signed into law, it offers developers optional “density averaging” subdivisions, which allow smaller lots on part of a development, in return for preserving natural features on the rest.
The site also has proved useful for candidates for local office. Mike Rogers of Farmington Hills is running for the Oakland County Commission in the 14th district. As a member of the planning staff at the county road commission, he naturally has a keen interest in transportation policies coming out of Lansing.
“I appreciate the feature that lets me sign up for e-mail notices when there is floor action on transportation bills,” Rogers said. “Oakland County has a real problem with road congestion, and the state will be a key player in fixing it, so we need to stay on top of the latest legislation.”
According to legislative analyst and MichiganVotes.org project manager Jack McHugh, the reason candidates are finding the web site so useful is that, unlike any other bill tracking utility, “On MichiganVotes.org, all legislative actions are described, not just ones selected by a particular interest group. Because it is searchable by legislator, keyword, and almost 100 subject categories, users can create their own custom ‘voting record guides.’”
Although politicians use the website, McHugh says the purpose of MichiganVotes.org is to inform citizens, business people, media, as well as public officials about legislation that affects their families, schools, jobs, and communities. The site empowers citizens to take a more active part in the democratic process, and hold their elected representatives accountable.
MichiganVotes.org was recently named by the Detroit Free Press one of “Michigan’s Favorite” web sites, and among the state’s top five government-related sites. Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and legislative leader Lynn Jondahl said of the site, “Citizens, be they students, advocates, reporters, or researchers, should check it out.”
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a research and educational institute based in Midland.