Election reform law headed wrong way

As long as any information about upcoming ballot issues is clean, neutral and informative, local governments should be allowed to educate the public about these elections.

State lawmakers recently passed another law designed to reform elections in Michigan. With 2015 winding down, a bill heads to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk prohibiting local governments from spending money to inform the public about ballot proposals within 60 days of an election.

There are already restrictions in place preventing these bodies from using persuasive language ahead of a millage vote, but this bill reportedly cuts communication off completely.

The bill bars governments from using radio, television, mass mailing or telephone messages to make a reference to a local ballot question. Chris Hackbarth of the Michigan Municipal League said community newsletters or neutral election day reminders could be prohibited.

“You’re allowed to have your own personal views, but in those 60 days before an election, you’re telling these officials they can’t even respond on their computer or phone to a question from a constituent,” Hackbarth told the Detroit Free Press.

According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Act of 1976, it is already illegal to use public resources to make a contribution or expenditure for a ballot proposal. And there are a handful of complaints filed with the Secretary of State dating to 2013, the Free Press reported.

There was no public hearing on this new legislation. The section is part of a larger bill, Senate Bill 571, about campaign finance.

This piece of legislation comes right after lawmakers approved a bill eliminating straight ticket voting.

As long as any information about upcoming ballot issues is clean, neutral and informative, local governments should be allowed to educate the public about these elections. There is already oversight in place. An outright ban is taking it too far.

Lawmakers seeking to reform voting laws should focus on making voting as simple as possible for the public while maintaining the integrity of the process.

Doing anything to make it more difficult will just make the public even more jaded about the process. Given the approval rating for lawmaking bodies (especially the U.S. House of Representatives), lawmakers at all levels should be doing all they can to earn the public’s trust.

— MIDLAND DAILY NEWS