(The following article first appeared in the Winter 2005 edition of Impact).
From the first, MichiganVotes.org has been acclaimed as the tool that brought democracy into the Internet Age. But the site has recently made it easier than ever to track our state representatives’ performance — and news media across Michigan have seized the chance.
MichiganVotes.org is the innovative Mackinac Center Web site that provides free, searchable, plain-English descriptions of every vote by the Michigan Legislature. The site’s recent upgrades now enable Web visitors to look up a Michigan legislator’s voting record in dozens of issue categories and to determine which roll call votes — and how many — a legislator has failed to cast. Other new features include links to analysis of legislators’ campaign contributions, as well as a new "Public Act" search tool that makes it possible to browse only those bills that have been signed into law.
The media were quick to see the implications. In October, The Flint Journal reported that a candidate for the state House was criticizing his opponent for missing 77 votes. The incumbent responded that the omissions occurred when she had gallbladder surgery. The newspaper was able to consult MichiganVotes.org to discover that this legislator had apparently had the surgery three times, because her missed votes came during three periods that were several months apart.
The Detroit Free Press recently cited MichiganVotes.org in a column describing the parting speech to the Legislature of a term-limited Detroit representative who had missed 645 votes during the 2003-2004 legislative session — easily the worst record of any legislator. In December, The Grand Rapids Press and the Michigan Information & Research Service used MichiganVotes.org to compare a number of legislators on their failure to vote.
MichiganVotes.org has now become the leading source on legislative voting records for influential audiences such as journalists, lawmakers, lobbyists, local government officials, and grass roots activists. Respected news outlets like Bill Ballenger’s "Inside Michigan Politics" and MIRS have used the site in the past year to prepare nonpartisan analyses of voting records. Organizations as diverse as the Michigan Conservative Union and the Detroit NAACP are using MichiganVotes.org to prepare their legislative voting record guides and scores.
MichiganVotes.org has, from its birth, produced a quantum leap in the potential power of informed citizens. Its success has led to the development of similar Web sites in Minnesota and Washington state. And with our site’s recent upgrades, it remains the leader of the pack.
Jack McHugh is a legislative analyst for 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.