A majority of those 151 elected offices will be chosen by means of straight ticket voting; a convenient voting approach which allows a voter to simply select a box in support of a party, which automatically votes for every candidate in every office for the said party . However, this only works for offices on the partisan ballot: offices like Governor or U.S. Senator are considered to be such.
Beyond the partisan ballot there is a lesser-known, but equally important section dubbed the non-partisan ticket. Here, the State Supreme Court, judicial offices and various municipal leadership positions are found. Due to the assumption common among voters that voting straight ticket covers the entire ballot, the non-partisan ballot suffers what is called “voter roll-off” where, often unintentionally, voters simply fail to vote on that category.
Frequently, as voters make their way down the ballot, there is a substantial downtick in voter participation. As detailed by the Secretary of State’s reporting of the 2016 elections, 4,874,619 voters turned out in Michigan: 98 percent voted for President. Only 69 percent of those voters bothered to vote for the State Supreme Court. Since it is a judicial position, candidates do not formally run as a member of a party. Subsequently, they are filed under the non-partisan area, which straight ticket voting doesn’t cover.
This matters. The Michigan Supreme Court serves as the final court before the US Supreme Court for state matters and supervises all of the other courts in the state.
The chronic, inadvertent disenfranchisement begs the question, why don’t we just ban straight ticket voting? In often partisan battles, Republicans supported a ban and Democrats called to sustain straight ticket voting.
“The problem with straight ticket voting is that it means people vote for parties rather than people,” former Michigan Republican Party chairman and current University of Michigan Regent Ron Weiser said. “When you are running for Regent, it has a huge impact because there are areas where there are very, very high percentages of straight ticket voting, no matter how well you connect or advertise.” The Board of Regents of the University of Michigan — classified under the non-partisan section of the ballot — make up the governing board of the institution.
On the contrary, “I believe that straight-ticket voting is an excellent voting rights tool that allows voters to vote for the party of their choice in an easy and accessible way,” said Lavora Barnes, Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party. “Straight-ticket voting helps keep the lines shorter on Election Day as voters who choose to use this option can complete what is sometimes a very long ballot in a shorter time. Voters from both parties use the straight-ticket option.”
Four legislative and judicial efforts to deflate accidental voter fatigue by banning straight ticket voting have been reviewed in Michigan. However, instead of eliminating the problem, it merely shifted the cause of it. Originally, the concern with straight ticket voting was it was a substitute for a lack of ballot knowledge. After it was banned, the blame for voter drop off then fell upon voters who enjoyed the efficiency that came with straight ticket voting, and simply did not take the time to continue down the ballot.
Candidates and political parties in Michigan instead resorted to educating the electorate on this easily-overlooked, yet tremendous misinterpretation. “I think [straight-ticket voting] has its benefits, but also it’s costs. For people in a hurry who don’t have much time to cast their ballot, it can make the process easier,” said Chief Justice Bridget McCormack of the Michigan Supreme Court. “It means I have to find ways to connect with voters that remind them to complete their ballot, even if they plan to vote straight ticket.”
If the candidates are connecting with us, how can I connect with them? When Proposal 3 was passed in 2018, a multitude of voting rules came into effect in Michigan: it included the most recent reinstatement of straight ticket voting in the state. It also included many additional adaptations to voting rights to make it more accessible. “First-time voters should use the resources that the Secretary of State and the Party provided to learn about the process and about the candidates,” Ms. Barnes said. “[They] may also want to take advantage of the new ‘no-reason’ absentee ballot law and vote from home — that way they can take their time with the ballot and not feel rushed.” Now that you know how to connect with your candidates, start here.
Gary Peters, an incumbent Democrat will face either John James or Bob Carr, both Republicans in 2020. Peters served as a U.S. Representative for Michigan’s Fourteenth district from 2013 until 2015, when he was first elected to the Senate.
John James the front-runner in the Republican primary, is a West Point graduate and served in the U.S. Military for eight years. He is now President of James Group International, a Detroit-based supply chain management company.
Debbie Dingell, the Democratic incumbent, leads three Democratic candidates running for Michigan’s Twelfth representative district: the district spans from Ann Arbor to Detroit’s suburbs. Representative Dingell is co-chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. She took office in 2015 after her husband, John Dingell, didn’t seek reelection. She has held the office since.
The eight state executive offices up for election in 2020 are two seats on the State Board of Education, two on the University of Michigan Board of Regents, two for the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, and two on the Wayne State University Board of Governors.
Bridget Mary McCormack is the sitting chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. She was elected to the court in 2012 with a nomination from the Democratic Party Convention. She was previously a dean of the Law School at the University of Michigan.
Stepehen Markman has served on the Michigan Supreme Court since he was appointed by the Republican Governor John Engler in 1999. He previously was the Assistant Attorney General of the United States and U.S. Attorney for Michigan.
Mark Boonstra has served for the court since 2012; first appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder in 2012 and has been reelected twice since. Additionally, the Michigan Supreme Court appointed Judge Boonstra to serve on the Michigan Court of Claims in tandem with his responsibilities in the Court of Appeals.
Jane Markey has served on the Third District Court of Appeals for 25 years. In spite of the nonpartisan election, Judge Markey has consistently aligned herself with Republican ideology.
James Redford was appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder in 2018. Prior to serving on the third circuit, he was chief council of the state and additionally served on the Michigan’s 17th Circuit Court.