LANSING—Michigan legislative candidates are finding a new website invaluable for checking the voting records of their opponents, or just following and understanding complex legislation. MichiganVotes.org, a free web database operated by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 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.

"The MichiganVotes.org description of my opponent’s voting record really helps me to explain why voters should choose me," said John O’Brien, a Democrat running for the state Senate. "It helped me analyze my opponent’s voting record."

O’Brien’s opponent for the 30th state Senate district, current House member Rep. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, also praised the site, noting that the large number of votes cast in the House and Senate make it hard for citizens to sort them all out. "MichiganVotes.org does a good job of presenting our record to citizens in an easy-to-use format," he said.

Another challenger echoes O’Brien’s comments with a bit more edge: "MichiganVotes.org has been a great tool for me to separate my opponent’s fictions from fact," said Greg Boughton, running against Rep. Julie Dennis, D-Muskegon. "I have used it extensively on my campaign. It’s a great reference tool."

Rep. Dennis has a record on labor issues which businesses say costs jobs, and union officials say protects workers. She agrees with Boughton about the utility of the website, but not about her record: "MichiganVotes.org is a good place to look up legislative votes. Those who view my record on the site will see one of protecting the working man and woman against the special interests."

According to MichiganVotes.org manager Jack McHugh, the goal of the site is to give citizens concise, searchable, plain-English, and objective descriptions of every bill and legislative vote. "The fact that opposing Democratic and Republican candidates both find it valuable confirms that the site is performing as intended," he said.

For example, anyone interested in Rep. Dennis’s record on labor issues would go to www.michiganvotes.org, scroll to "Dennis, Rep. Julia" in the "Choose your representative" box, and type the keyword "wage" in the "search criteria" box. "The nine votes revealed give a good picture of her voting record on labor issues," said McHugh.

Matt Milosch, running in the 55th state House district, also finds the site useful for exposing little-known legislative maneuvers. He pointed to Senate Bill 117 and House Bill 5883, which insiders generally agree were designed to give legislators "cover" from angry taxpayers as the Legislature postponed previously enacted business tax cuts. "MichiganVotes.org shed much needed sunshine on this tricky move," he said.

State Rep. Leon Drolet, R-Clinton Township, running for a second term in the 33rd district, is one of a growing number of legislators using the site during legislative sessions. He says it helped him avoid voting for a potential "tweak" to Proposal A last December. Drolet was one of only two House members to oppose House Bill 4824, which could increase local property taxes by expanding the uses of school "sinking funds." "Most of my colleagues thought this was purely technical, but I saw on MichiganVotes.org that it was more," he said.

According to 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 subject categories, users can create their own custom voting record guides."

Although politicians use MichiganVotes.org, the purpose of the web site is to inform citizens, business people, and journalists, as well as public officials, about legislation that affects families, schools, jobs and communities. The site empowers citizens to be more active in the democratic process, and hold elected representatives accountable for the votes they cast.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a Midland-based nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute that operates MichiganVotes.org as a free public service. MichiganVotes.org was named by the Detroit Free Press as one of Michigan’s 40 "favorite" web sites.