Even with the election just a few days away, you may not have had time to study the candidates as well as you’d like. This isn’t surprising. The immediate demands of day-to-day life — eating, sleeping, working, children, finances, home repairs and even recreation — can’t be neglected, and you naturally attend to them first. You may not have time to scrutinize page C14 of your newspaper every day to learn how your state representative voted on a water bill — assuming your newspaper even reports it.
Your predicament is called "rational ignorance," and it’s common. But the Mackinac Center is using the power of the Internet to provide you with a rational solution — and a new opportunity to participate in state government this Tuesday.
MichiganVotes.org is a free Web database the Center operates, and it gives you concise, nonpartisan, plain-language descriptions of every bill, amendment and vote that takes place in the Michigan Legislature. With a few clicks on a simple menu, you can search this immense database by keyword, category, bill number — or legislator.
For example, if you’re interested in a state representative’s record of votes on tax and fee increases, you can do an advanced "House voting record" search by selecting the "taxes" category and entering the keyword "increase." The Web site will immediately generate a voting record — 25 votes for a typical state representative during the past 22 months — and give you a good picture of the legislator’s actions on this issue.
Or consider the missed votes. A new feature on MichiganVotes.org allows you to see not only how many votes a legislator has failed to cast, but which votes were missed and when. The Flint Journal recently reported that in the 34th Michigan House District, GOP challenger Steven Mays cited this feature in questioning the 77 votes missed by incumbent state Rep. Brenda Clack, D-Flint. Rep. Rep. Clack, in turn, had a good excuse: She says most of her missed votes happened when she had emergency gallbladder surgery.
But not all those who miss votes have such reasonable explanations. The information provided by MichiganVotes.org lets citizens judge for themselves.
In fact, this nonpartisan Web site is so simple and powerful that opposing Democratic and Republican candidates have found it valuable in their campaigns:
Bill Largent, the Republican candidate for the 37th District of the state House, says the Web site provides "one-stop shopping" for opposition research. "MichiganVotes.org has been a touchstone of this campaign," he adds. "We go to it at least once a day."
Rep. Aldo Vagnozzi, D-Farmington Hills, is Largent’s opponent, and he also praises the site, saying, "My record of working to protect the rights of senior citizens and improve our health care system is easily discovered on MichiganVotes.org."
Rep. Matt Milosch, R-Lambertville, is an incumbent with a voting record that is almost 180 degrees opposed to Rep. Vagnozzi’s on many key issues, but he, too, recommends MichiganVotes.org: "I am proud of my record of protecting jobs and working to strengthen Michigan’s economy, and I urge voters to review that record on MichiganVotes.org."
MichiganVotes.org has been named by the Detroit Free Press as one of Michigan’s "favorite" Web sites. It is widely used and praised by journalists, opinion leaders and public officials from both sides of the aisle. Legislators even use the service when they’re in session to track bills that are moving quickly.
But MichiganVotes.org is meant mainly to be used by you. So if you’re catching up on some last-minute research for your vote on Tuesday, give the site a chance to help you, without the filters of partisanship or special-interest politics. You’ll have time to participate in the election the way you want to — and still have time to read page C14 of the Sunday newspaper.
Jack McHugh is editor of MichiganVotes.org, a free public-service Web site run by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.
 State Rep. Leon Drolet, R-Clinton Township, recalls a fast-paced, late-night state House session not long after MichiganVotes.org was launched. The detailed information provided by the site, he says, led him to vote "no" on a bill that could have increased local property taxes by expanding the use of school "sinking funds." "Most legislators thought the bill was purely technical and voted ‘yes,’ but MichiganVotes.org showed it made a substantive change in the law," he said. "After this vote, more members began using the site."