Being engaged after an election
Campus Election Engagement Project Fellow
Last November we had record breaking turnout in a historical election, but how do we stay engaged and involved with our democratic processes after the election? Earlier this month, the candidates that were elected were sworn into office and the new terms have begun. Do we not stay engaged and just wait for the next election?
Of course not! There are many ways for people to be civically engaged without voting. One option is that some council and commission meetings are viewable virtually for community members. All someone has to do is visit their local government’s website to see if they have videos of the meetings or check when the civic body of your choice is streaming again.
An easy way someone can be civically engaged is keeping up with current events. It is important to follow news with reliable sources and to be able to check and see if what you are reading/watching/hearing is factual. Central Votes plans to release a blog dedicated to media literacy later in the year.
Another great way to be more civically engaged is to get involved within your government. This could be getting a job within the public sector or writing to your local legislator. If you want to find out who your representatives are visit: house.mi.gov/ or senate.michigan.gov/. For those who do not live in Michigan, you can search for your state's bicameral legislative bodies. If you want to contact a local politician, their information should be on your local government’s webpage.
People can also get involved by joining a local organization based on a cause that they are really passionate about or a certain group or party that they align with. Obviously, the example that I am providing of an organization where you can be civically engaged is Central Votes which promotes voter engagement in particular but there are groups that focus on issues such as education, equality, ballot initiatives, policy reform, and many others.
As we enter 2021, I hope you continue the civic engagement that you practiced in November. There are many ways to be involved in your community and share your voice. If you still have any concerns or questions on how you can get involved or how you can contact your representatives or a community organization, feel free to contact Central Votes.
What Are Michigan Ballot Measures and Why They Are Important
Central Votes SGA Representative
If you voted by mail in the 2020 Presidential Election, you would have seen two ballot measures, or proposals, on the ballot. One ballot measure illustrates changes to two key Michigan conservation funds, and the other measure talked about if a warrant should be required to search an individual's electronic data. These ballot measures are proposed laws that ordinary citizens created to implement changes in Michigan without politicians getting in the way. When a citizen wants to implement a law, remove a current law, or amend a law, in Michigan, they must file their purpose measure with the Secretary of State. Then, they have the option to submit a draft petition to the Board of State Canvassers for approval or rejection. It is not required for a citizen to take this step; however, it is highly recommended as any formatting defects can invalidate a petition. After gaining approval from the Board of State Canvassers, the individual can start collecting signatures from the general public in Michigan. The petition, proposal, needs to gather a set of signatures determined by the number of votes cast in the last governor election. If the individual wants to initiate a constitutional amendment, 10% of votes cast in the last governor election are needed. If the individual wants to initiate a state statute, 8% of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election is needed. For a veto referendum, 5% of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election is needed. The deadline for gathering the required signatures is 180 days for an initiated statute or constitutional amendment. For veto referendums, the deadline is 90 days. If the proposed measure gathers the required signatures in the required deadline, the petition then must be approved by the Secretary of State and verified by the Bureau of Election. The Board of State Canvassers then votes to certify the measure’s signatures. If approved, the purpose measure gets sent to Michigan’s Legislature to approve the proposal or not. If approved, the proposal goes into law, if rejected, the proposal is placed in the next general election ballot.
Ballot measures, or proposal measures, are superpowers ordinary citizens can use to implement change in Michigan without politicians able to stop them. For example, in 2018, a ballot measure to allow any Michigander to be able to vote by mail was placed on the ballot. Michigan’s Legislation disagreed with the measure, but could not stop it. The measure was approved by voters in the midterms of 2018 by two-thirds of voters. If Michigan politicians pass a law that the public disagrees with, citizens can purpose a veto referendum to reject the law. These superpowers are crucial to democracy and understanding what they are is crucial. The next time you see a purposed measure on the ballot, research the proposal and decided whether you agree with it or not. Remember, it is not politicians asking for a specific change, it is ordinary citizens.
Combating Misinformation in Elections
Central Votes President and Democracy Fellow for Campus Vote Project
Never before have we seen such a massive questioning over the integrity of U.S. elections. It seems to have occurred over the course of the past couple of years— largely alongside the notion of “fake news.” In America, there has always been an emphasis on certain, undeniable civil liberties. One of the most significant liberties to our democracy is freedom of the press, and in America, it is largely seen as the media’s job to function as the “watchdog” and “gatekeeper” to the government, ultimately protecting the people by informing them on what the government is doing. However, this benefit has recently created the phenomena of “fake news.” Some have argued that fake news, rather it be explicitly false or a simple bias, is extremely dangerous, and should be prevented and stopped. Others have argued that fake news is nothing new and it is highly misguided, that stopping it would stifle speech rights, and the main focus should be on biases and inaccuracies. However, the point is that today, misinformation and fake news are widely believed concepts. If misinformation is to be real, then there must be people who believe in it. When it comes to our most sacred institutions such as our elections— we cannot afford to risk the health of these fundamental ideas to concepts that are not related to facts.
First, what are some things people assert about the election that are false? Here is a list of those ideas:
Voting by mail is harmful.
There is widespread voter fraud, especially from undocumented immigrants.
People are voting more than once.
It is bad for states to send people ballots and/or absentee ballot applications.
Votes are being cast on behalf of dead people and pets.
Mail-in ballots will lead to a ‘rigged’ election.
Due to the looming COVID-19 pandemic, absentee voting is more popular than ever and it is the best way to vote while safeguarding citizens’ health. However, this increase in mail-in voting has caused a great deal of false information about it. Overall, many officials have asserted that absentee voting is ultimately bad as it can lead to the rigging of the election, but this is false. President Trump recently claimed that “Democrats are also trying to rig the election by sending out tens of millions of mail-in ballots— they’re not sending them to Republican neighborhoods.” According to the New York Times, there have been numerous studies that show little evidence that mail-in ballots help one party over another and absentee voting is something supported by both parties as several Republican states like Iowa, Missouri and Alabama have expanded mail-in ballots this year.
Another large claim is that there are many people who are voting illegally, especially among those who are undocumented. However, extensive research has found that voter fraud is extremely rare, yet 25% of Americans believe that voter fraud is a “major problem” according to a Pew Research Study conducted in August. Arguably, this is due to the vast onslaught over the integrity of elections. Nonetheless, just because voter fraud is rare, that does not mean it does not happen at all, so where are these matters of voter fraud coming from? Contrary to the belief that thousands of undocumented immigrants voted in 2016, the very few cases of voter fraud reports occurred from administrative errors and complaints from the losers in very close elections according to a study published by a Columbia University political scientist. However, there have been many incidents in which noncitizens accidentally registered to vote. These cases largely arise out of the entanglements of DMV operations and voting. Notable incidents have occurred in Florida and New York where undocumented immigrants are able to apply for driver's licenses in the state, which makes it easier for them to mistakenly become registered voters when they are not eligible.
According to Nick LaLota, New York’s Suffolk County elections commissioner, "The state automatically registers them to vote unless they check a small box saying that no, they don't want to get registered to vote," LaLota said. "I would presume some of that happens intentionally, probably a larger amount happens unintentionally.” Consequently, many states have incorporated processes to prevent this from occurring by comparing records from the DMV and the Secretary of State.
These ideas are only just a small amount of what some people incorrectly claim about voting. One other big issue is simply misinformation that arises from the lack of understanding about voting. Many people do not know how to apply for an absentee ballot or how to register to vote. When we forget the very fundamental procedures needed to understand our systems, we open the door for false information to become the mainstream. It is important we combat this by educating not only ourselves, but our friends, families, and neighbors. If you are someone that happens to be concerned about election integrity you can sign up to be an election worker to watch over the polls in Michigan or when you’re out voting on November 3rd and you see something suspicious, report it to the election protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE.
National Voter Registration Day:
Central Votes Vice President
As National Voter Registration day comes up, we should all take the time to think about the importance of voting. In any election, regardless if it is state, local, or even if it pertains to the federal government, you have a say in the direction of our country. Some people speculate that their voice does not matter, but in reality, it matters so much. There are countless races where the vote comes down to just a few hundred votes. That is you, your friends, and their families. Think of it like a ripple effect. If you make sure you are registered to vote, and make sure your friends are registered, and the friends of your friends are registered, everyone will get a say in the future of our democracy.
So here we are, approaching National Voter Registration Day. I want us to really think about the impact we all have and how that can be utilized to change democracy for the better. Our generation is the biggest voting bloc in America right now. If we all come together to make sure we are registered and that we actually vote, we will get to decide our nation’s path.
Take this time this week to make sure you are registered to vote and that your friends are too!
Register to vote here at Michigan.gov/vote
Why You Should be Fired Up to Vote
By Asef Hoque
Central Votes Member
At times like this, people might often feel disconnected and distant from the current system. With protests raging and talks about discrimination flooding news outlets, it is even more evident that minorities feel further excluded from the existing system. However, voting is a fundamental right and privilege that is given to us. Which is why we must exercise it to make our voices heard. If you ever believe that a single vote might not amount to much, just look at the case of the presidential election of the year 2000. Al Gore, one of the presidential candidates, lost the election in Florida by only 537 votes, which was only a margin of 0.0009%. With the electoral college system of winner takes all the delegates, all of the delegates in Florida went to the other candidate.
In an article published in The Washington Post, the writer analyzed the 2016 election results in Michigan were decided by a crucial 11,000 votes. Your vote will decide how your taxes, healthcare, education, social security, and future are decided. With the ongoing pandemic, people need to understand that it’s ever more important to cast votes and pick leaders who represent their views. If it is inconvenient to go to the polling stations to vote, you can apply for an absentee ballot by downloading the application form online. Central Votes and the Volunteer Center at Central Michigan University have put together a complete absentee voting guide that can be found here:
Therefore, this coming election, it is even more crucial to make your voice heard by being fired up and coming together regardless of color, race, and religion. We must be united to build America together.
The Importance of Voting in Local Elections
By Nicole Mader
Central Votes Student Government Association Representative
One of the great aspects of voting is that we are able to use our voice to make change within our country. I remember being in high school and being so excited to turn eighteen so I could start voting in the presidential elections. However, as I became older, I became more educated on voting and how our government works. I realized that it wasn't just the general election I had to look forward to, but the primaries, midterms, and elections within your own city. Yes, voting for president is very important, but one of the best ways to use your voice for change is to start with what is happening locally.
When your community is in need of change or you have issues you need to address, it’s essential to talk to your mayor. If you don't believe your mayor is doing everything in their power to make your community a better place, this is where the importance of voting comes in. Decisions that are made by your local government are ones that directly impact you. From affordable housing to the quality of schools to public transit, your local government are the ones who make these decisions. By voting in local elections, you have a say in how to make your community a better place.
By voting for judges, mayors, treasurers, etc., you are able to see a difference on how your community runs. Voting in smaller elections creates opportunities for people in power to rise to higher positions which can help not only your town, but your entire state, and eventually, your entire country.
Perspective on Gerrymandering and How to Fix it
By Ryan Coker
Central Votes President
Campus Vote Project Democracy Fellow
Since the very passing of the fifteenth amendment in 1870, voting for newly freed slaves was no easy task. From grandfather clauses to outright violence, voting has since been destined to be an uphill battle for black citizens and other minorities communities at large. In our more modern society we have been able to make voting more accessible for all people, but there is still much to be done, especially for communities of color where the foundations of voting are far more vexing. According to the vast majority of data from scholars the voting disparities between white and nonwhite citizens is large and growing. This has posed a fundamental imbalance in the way our democracy functions, so why is this happening and what can we do to close this gap and remove these barriers.
Of course, there’s no easy answer— in fact, there are many, but I will point out one of the biggest issues, which is gerrymandering, which seems to be at the very heart of voter suppression overall. As previously stated, voting for African Americans has always been difficult. The question is how we can begin to remove these practices. Voting ought to be made easy, free and accessible for everyone in order to cultivate a healthy democracy. We all benefit from more people voting, not more one a certain race, gender, or party voting than the other and these practices do just this in such a way that voting disparities exist. Voting must be made fair and in order to do so the people deciding where and how we vote should be ordinary people, not politicians.
Throughout history, gerrymandering has shown to not only be based on party lines, but racial lines as well, in which numerous attempts of diluting the “voting potential” of minority groups have occurred. Gerrymandering still happens today and both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for doing it, which has caused many people to advocate for reform. This has compelled some states, like California, Washington, Arizona, and more recently Michigan, to create systems that would perform redistricting independently from state legislators and without bias. Despite these efforts, many people do not necessarily agree on the different ways to achieve a completely unbiased and independent redistricting system. Some of the most common opinions include creating an independent commission, which then asks the question of how the commission is chosen and who gets to be on it. Will it be chosen randomly, do legislators get to pick, or can citizens vote for members? Some interest groups make efforts to create court cases to solve redistricting through the judicial system. In hopes of creating a system almost entirely void of bias, people have proposed using a computer-based system that would draw district lines, but of course, who would then be chosen to create this system, or the various algorithms that generate the lines? Ultimately, there isn’t a clear solution to how redistricting can be made truly fair, however, there are pros and cons to these ideas and alternatives that should be considered.
Reformers have proposed using computers and algorithms to draw districts in order to ensure that districts are neat, compact, and without biased. According to CQ Researcher, “Big data could lessen partisanship if used correctly because mapmakers are using it to reduce the number of swing districts and to keep more districts safely in one party’s hands” (2018). A large advantage to using data and technology to create maps is that a machine can’t have a political affiliation. This would ultimately guarantee that lines are drawn without bias, backed with mathematical reasoning on creating certain districts. According to Nolan McCarty, a political scientist from Princeton University, “any procedure you come up with that looks apolitical has to have had a bunch of political decisions made in order to come up with that procedure” (2018). Even Justice Anthony Kennedy is skeptical of this approach, stating that using technology is “both a threat and a promise” (2018). In addition to this, technology isn’t always the most reliable thing. Our phones and computers glitch all the time and a super advanced, artificially intelligent machine that can determine districts isn’t exempt from that. It can still have problems. It also raises a security concern, like how susceptible it is to being hacked or being sabotaged. Redistricting is an important aspect of our political system and many are skeptical to put such an important thing in the hands of machines. A technological approach would be the most precise and efficient way, but it may not be the most reliable.
In most cases, states have taken it upon themselves to come up with their own alternatives for redistricting, involving a commission separate from state legislators. This kind of format helps to ensure that it isn’t politicians themselves who directly influence the makeup of states' maps. This aspect is a major benefit to reformers. However, this alternative can have flaws. We can observe potential issues when evaluating California’s redistricting commission. The commission is made up of 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 4 independents, who are selected by the California State Auditor from a large pool that gets narrowed down to 60 people. The list of 60 people is then given to the legislator to decide who gets put onto the commission. Although the partisan makeup of the commission is fairly equal on its face, it’s impossible to create a commission that purely unbiased. Legislators could try to choose very extreme members in order to sway the overall judgment of the commission in a certain direction. It may be difficult to find someone who is completely neutral because independents may still lean one way or the other. This creates the question of how far will the commission lean and in which direction? Legislators choosing who gets membership can still open the door for unwanted, partisan decisions to be made. For example, in a state like California, whose legislature is held by a large majority of Democrats, politicians could collectively make their decisions based on which applicants mirror a certain political standard the best.
In evaluating these ideas, the best alternative is forming an independent commission of randomly selected members, because it truly aims to separate the influence of politicians and it puts the power in the hands of voters. This commission shouldn’t be chosen by any government entity, like in California. Instead, members should be chosen randomly. This alternative is much like Michigan’s redistricting initiative. The Michigan commission is best because members are randomly selected, which guarantees that no agenda is set in choosing members. In the initiative is a proposal that applicants can’t have any significant political interest and they cannot be an elected partisan official, legislative staffer, or related to someone in either of these two categories. The Michigan commission strictly aims for average citizens, rather than a certain kind of person and it focuses more on voters rather than politicians. Despite the flaws that come with an independent commission, the pros outweigh the cons and it’s far better in ensuring a more representative government.
For decades, the laws in the U.S seemingly have failed to reflect those of a real democracy. In its most basic form, redistricting is an important part of what makes up our government and it is a true measure of voting potential among citizens. The Founders entrusted this task to state legislators, but competitiveness in politics has eroded the legitimacy of this system because lawmakers have abused their power, which has resulted in years of race-based and partisan gerrymandering. Due to this, districts are not being properly represented and people’s voting rights are being infringed on. Efforts to reform redistricting have seen success within the judicial system, but this change is not always guaranteed. A technological approach has been considered which is the closest solution to a more unbiased system, but it comes with a large risk factor. As Justice Kennedy stated, technology would be “both a promise and a threat.” The most effective way to reform redistricting is for states to implement change that is best for them and by aiming for reform that puts power in the hands of voters and not politicians and Michigan’s independent commission closely reflects this.
Why vote by mail initiatives are a good thing for Michigan
By Will Sheffield
Central Votes Communications Director
As most of those reading this saw, on Tuesday, May 19th the Michigan Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, announced that all 7.7 million registered voters in Michigan will be mailed absentee ballot applications for August 4th and November 3rd elections this year. Benson stated the reason for this decision was, ““By mailing applications, we have ensured that no Michigander has to choose between their health and their right to vote”. With the spread of COVID-19, people have adopted social distancing to stay safe and to protect others from themselves. Social distancing is promoted to slow the spread of COVID-19 to avoid an overcrowding of medical facilities and the overworking of medical professionals.
As the communications director of Central Votes there is nothing I want more than everyone to vote and execute their power to have a say in how they want to be governed. I am not going to list every elected seat up for election in Michigan because there are a lot of offices and proposals to vote on this August and November. I believe if everyone voted and was actively engaged in the public sector, we could see government that is compromised to work best for all constituents. Obviously, this is just my personal opinion on why I value voting and it is objectively argued that a future of all voters being civically engaged is a not happening for years.
I believe that voting by mail is a step in the right direction. The secretary of state’s plan sends all voters the application. I think it is great that all registered voters will receive the absentee application because it relieves the voter of accessing a public space, such as a library that are currently not open, to print their application. The other reason why this is great is that it makes voting by mail optional. If someone wanted to vote in person, they can choose not to submit the application and still vote in person. Another pro of voting by mail, is that people who choose to vote by mail and receive their absentee ballot who may have a past history of not researching their ballot will have extra time with their ballot to research all of the elections on their ballot before filling it out.
I understand why people do not want to vote in person, people do not want to get sick but people also do not want to go to their polling place if they are sick and get others sick just to cast their votes. Voting by mail guarantees voters their right to vote for they could still vote if they happen to be sick on election day. Overall, this grants everyone more accessibility to vote in the August and November elections.
Letter to Editor
By Mackenzie Clark
Campus Vote Project Democracy Fellow
Central Votes Treasurer
I know these times are unprecedented and hard, so I hope you and your loved ones are well. With that, I want to introduce myself. I am originally from the city of Plainwell which is located in Southwest Michigan. I go to school at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant which is located in Northeast Michigan. Although these cities are on opposite sides of the state, I have seen how elections have been affected in similar ways.
The health of the public is the number one priority right now and there is no denying this. However, we are a strong community and will get through this. When we do, elections will still be there and as important as ever. That brings me to why I am writing. I want to make sure Michigan is still focusing on and emphasizing the importance of elections. This includes the May 5th elections as well as the August and November elections.
A way to help people still vote during these troubling times is to disseminate information on mail-in voting and absentee applications. When people are being encouraged to stay inside these are especially imperative. It is important to make sure information on how to fill out these documents is easily accessible to all. This will help to ensure we are caring for the health of voters while still encouraging them to participate in our democracy.
Thank you so much for reading this piece of writing on something that is important to me and so many others.