Tomorrow is Election Day, and there’s just one item on the ballot in many communities: Proposal 1, a statewide ballot initiative that, through a combination of tax increases and decreases, will raise about a billion-and-a-half more dollars each year for roads, and a couple hundred million more for schools and local governments.
There are reasonable arguments on both sides of the initiative. I’m voting “Yes,” because I believe that, while complicated, this is probably the best political compromise we can achieve in the current environment in Lansing. But I know and respect a lot of people who are voting “No,” either because they oppose the taxes that will be raised, because they believe the whole proposal is too complicated, or they just don’t like the way the Legislature seemed to punt this issue to us, the people, rather than making a tough decision on its own.
That’s all fine. Disagreement is important grist for the mill of democracy. But you know what’s not okay? Predictions for turnout tomorrow range from about 1.5 million, all the way down to around 900,000.
By comparison? Last year’s gubernatorial election brought out 3 million voters. Now that 3 million is already less than half the 7.2 million registered voters statewide. So we’re looking at, best case scenario, around 21% of the voters making this decision. One in five - for a decision that could fundamentally alter our tax structure, raise billions of dollars and, let’s not forget, will cast the future of our awful roads for some time.
That’s really sad.
I get why people don’t turn out. They don’t feel their vote matters, or they’ve become cynical about a process that leaves us with a weird vote on the first Tuesday in May, when most people are thinking about something else.
But for some reason, I got this up this morning thinking about the importance of opting, and the example that came to mind was in Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a police officer last year inspired violent confrontations between angered citizens and police.
One of the big problems in Ferguson was that historically low voter turnout had left the mostly black citizens without much say in local government. The mayor, the police chief, the city council were mostly white. But then, just last month, Ferguson held an election. And guess what: they doubled the number of eligible voters who turned out. It only jumped from 12% to 21%, but it was enough to produce a city council majority that reflected the majority population in that city.
One election. Big difference. You don’t see it often, but Ferguson is proof that it can happen; it’s a reminder to us all that we can matter, we can leverage our democratic voices for the change we want.
So tomorrow? Get up. Go vote. Be part of the process. Vote “Yes,” or vote “No.” But cast a ballot.
This is pretty important stuff we’re deciding, life and death, in some instances, if you think about how dangerous our road conditions have become.
And here’s another reminder: if you want to talk about Prop 1, still have some questions or need some deeper explanations, come out to the Anchor Bar on Fort Street in Detroit tonight at 6 p.m., for Smart Politics, where I’ll be hosting a conversation about the upcoming election. And I’ll have two experts there - one for, one against - who’ll help us get to the truth.
Too many people let democracy mean nothing until they think it’s going to be taken away from them.
Don’t be one of those people. Vote tomorrow.