Website provides concise, objective, plain-English, searchable description of every vote and bill of 2003
Michigan’s 2003 legislative session was historic on several counts. For the first time in state history the governor and both houses of the Legislature were fully the products of term limits adopted by the people in 1992. This was also the first legislative session of the "post-Engler" era, and of the new Granholm administration. Finally, lower-than-expected revenues twice forced the governor and the Legislature to rein in spending plans adopted in earlier state budgets.
Every step was documented by MichiganVotes.org, a revolutionary website that provides concise, plain-English, objective descriptions of every bill, amendment and vote, all in a searchable electronic database. During this first year of the 92nd Legislature MichiganVotes.org described:
256 New Laws
23 Constitutional Amendment Proposals
1,533 Roll Call Votes
Thousands of "Voice Votes"
This information is searchable by legislator, keyword, bill number, and 40 subject categories, so users can create their own custom "voting record guide" for any senator or representative. Citizens interested in particular issues such as education or taxes can register for e-mail alerts of legislative action on those issues.
This was the third full year in which user-friendly descriptions of every state legislative action have been entered into the searchable MichiganVotes.org database. The database has become a gold mine of information for reporters, legislators and their staffs, local officials, students, and taxpayers. Candidates from both parties refer to the site as "one-stop shopping" for opposition research on voting records, and citizens are using it as a "truth meter" to judge the claims of candidates. Many legislators use the site on the floor to monitor bills during fast-moving sessions.
Much of the focus of legislative attention in 2003 revolved around the state budget deficit. A new web feature entitled "Michigan’s Budget Challenge" provided an important adjunct to MichiganVotes.org. The site is a web portal offering detailed budget information from governmental and non-partisan private research organizations, news stories and editorials, and spending cut studies. It contains links to these and to the text of budget bills, plus their plain-English MichiganVotes.org descriptions (which also contain year-to-year spending comparisons).
Also during 2003, MichiganVotes.org Editor Jack McHugh gave hundreds of site tours to legislators, legislative staff, journalists, students and citizens groups. Among these were journalism classes at Michigan State University, the MSU Michigan Political Leadership Program, and grass roots political groups. In the fall McHugh gave presentations about the site to business and community leaders in Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Battle Creek.
These milestones were not attained by government bureaucrats spending millions of taxpayer dollars, but by the non-profit Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which is funded entirely by voluntary contributions. Mackinac Center President Lawrence Reed believes MichiganVotes.org is improving the political culture of the Great Lakes State. "MichiganVotes.org has administered cleansing sunshine to what can be a very murky legislative process," he said
Others have noticed. Use of the site has increased steadily since its debut in 2001, rising to nearly 200,000 monthly "hits" and 16,000 user sessions by December, 2003. Respected Michigan political commentator and former legislator Bill Ballenger said, "MichiganVotes.org is a tremendous service. You’ve made it a lot simpler to review legislators’ votes." The Detroit Free Press has cited MichiganVotes.org as one of its 40 "Michigan’s Favorite" web sites, and among the state’s top five government-related sites. Many of the reporters who cover state government regularly rely on MichiganVotes.org for quick access to voting record information.
The idea is catching with public policy institutes in other states. For the second year "WashingtonVotes.org," operated by the Seattle-based Washington Policy Center, is describing action in Washington’s part-time Legislature. Preparations are underway to do the same in other states.
MichiganVotes.org is a free public service of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational institute. Its purpose is to inform citizens, community leaders, business people, media and 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.