In December of 2001, Republican majorities in the Michigan House and Senate passed a bill to remove the single-action straight party (or “straight ticket”) voting option from ballots in the state.(See vote details.) Currently, general election ballots provide an option whereby voters can with a single mark on the ballot vote for either all Democrats or all Republicans in every partisan contest. Many contests appearing on ballots are not partisan, such as judges, local officials, and initiatives and referenda, and for these a voter must still make individual choices.
The legislation made a number of other changes to election law (see "description of the legislation that would be overturned"), but except for removing the straight ticket voting option, most of these occasioned little or no controversy. In response to the straight ticket issue, the Michigan Democratic Party sponsored a petition drive which successfully placed the legislation on the ballot for a referendum. Under the Constitution, none of its provisions will go into effect unless a majority of voters on Nov. 5 answer “yes” to the question, “Should this law be approved?” Because of the referendum, the single-action straight party voting option will still appear on ballots in the Nov. 5, 2002 general election.
While legitimate arguments can be made on both sides as to whether providing for single-action straight ticket voting is good public policy (see “Commentary” and “Support and Opposition”), most observers (and participants) agree that in Michigan at this particular time the issue boils down to pure partisan politics. Republicans believe that the option increases Democratic tallies on “down ticket” races, or those below the high profile top-of-the-ticket races such as president or governor. They observe that voters in Democratic strongholds like Detroit disproportionately choose the straight party ticket, thereby boosting totals for Democratic candidates in low-profile partisan elections such as state school board, university trustees, etc.
In Michigan, it is true that more Democrats than Republicans have voted straight ticket in recent years, but this is not automatically the case, as is shown by the experience of Georgia, which eliminated single-action straight-party voting in 1994. At the time Republican presidential tallies were on the rise, and Democrats in control of the legislature feared the straight ticket option would boost GOP results in local and state races. However, evidence is now mounting that this did not happen. In response, Democrats there are mounting a major effort to restore straight-party voting. Within a decade, a major party in Georgia has been on both sides of the issue.