As U.S. citizens prepare to vote in the November 3rd election, there are many issues that they must research in order to cast an informed ballot. While some may feel like they have already been bombarded with resources covering topics like the voter registration process, voting early, and the platforms of political candidates, information regarding ballot proposals has not been widely disseminated. Although treated as an afterthought, ballot proposals are a rare opportunity for citizens to engage in “direct democracy” or the direct citizen participation in lawmaking. These proposed legislative changes have the potential to impact our everyday lives just as much as the candidates we are voting into office. However on election day, many voters may leave that section of their ballot blank for lack of prior knowledge.
Ballot proposals often use technical language and, due to the necessity of providing a condensed description, can be worded in a way that is oversimplified or misleading to the public. To help clear up the confusion we have compiled simple definitions of commonly used terms found in ballot proposals and explained the measures that Detroit voters can expect to see on election day. Hopefully this can be a jumping off point to get readers started on their own independent research.
Common Ballot Proposal Terms
A bond issue is when a unit of government (city, county, school district, or state), requests voters to approve or deny additional proposed spending. This is necessitated by laws which require the government to gain voter approval before raising taxes, spending beyond a certain level, or creating new public debt.
The term Millage (or mills) is used in local government spending proposals in which the money to fund the project or service is to be generated through property taxes. A mill represents the amount of tax for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. Thus, a mill is one-thousandth of a dollar, or $1 of tax for every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. For example, if the assessed value of a residence is $150,000 and the tax rate is 8 mills, the tax due will be $1200 ($150,000 multiplied by 8, then divided by 1000). Millages can fund a vast array of local projects or services (emergency response, libraries, public transit, roads and infrastructure, parks and trails, youth programming, etc) https://ballotpedia.org/Mill
An amendment is a change to the constitution, either by directly altering the language of the constitution or by adding an additional section at the end of the legal text. In the state of Michigan, proposed amendments to the constitution may originate in the legislature or through a citizen-led petition initiative (another example of direct democracy). If the proposed amendment is approved by two-thirds of the members of the legislature, or the petition initiative collects the minimum required amount of signatures from eligible citizens, the proposal is added to the ballot. If approved by the majority of voters in the election, the state constitution is altered accordingly.
State of Michigan and City of Detroit 2020 Ballot Proposals
On November 3rd Detroit voters will have the opportunity to participate in the lawmaking process by voting on three ballot measures – two statewide and one local.
Michigan’s Proposal 1 Use of State and Local Park Funds Amendment is a proposed amendment to the state constitution, originating in the state legislature. The proposed amendment reads as follows:
“A proposed constitutional amendment to allow money from oil and gas mining on state-owned lands to continue to be collected in state funds for land protection and creation and maintenance of parks, nature areas, and public recreation facilities; and to describe how money in those state funds can be spent” https://www.michigan.gov/documents/sos/Proposal_2020-1_701310_7.pdf
Voting ‘yes’ means supporting changes to how the state’s park-related funds can be spent. Projects to renovate and redevelop existing recreational facilities would become eligible for grants. Vote Yes for MI Water Wildlife & Parks is leading the campaign in support of the ballot measure. They argue that changing how the funds can be spent through bringing in money from sales of oil and gas will help provide more funds to protect and develop the state’s outdoor spaces.
Voting ‘no’ means opposing changes to how these funds can be spent and continuing to prohibit projects to renovate recreational facilities from receiving grants. This position is supported by the Green Party of Michigan and the Sierra Club of Michigan. They say that funding from non-renewable energy sources like gas and oil is not a sustainable source of revenue which will tackle climate change.
Michigan’s Proposal 2 Search Warrant for Electronic Data Amendment is also a proposed constitutional amendment, originating in the state legislature. The proposed amendment reads as follows:
“A proposed constitutional amendment to require a search warrant in order to access a person’s electronic data or electronic communications” http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2019-2020/jointresolutionengrossed/Senate/pdf/2019-SEJRS-G.pdf
This proposed amendment would add language to the State Constitution, requiring a search warrant to access electronic data or communications. The amendment would also state that electronic data and electronic communications are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. A “yes” vote supports this constitutional amendment. A “no” vote opposes this constitutional amendment.
The third measure Detroit voters can expect to see on their ballot is the City of Detroit’s Proposal N Blight Remediation Bond Measure. The proposed amendment reads as follows:
“Shall the City of Detroit issue bonds in an amount of not more than $250,000,000 for the purpose of paying the cost of neighborhood improvements in the City through property rehabilitation, demolition and other blight remediation activities? The bonds will be payable from taxes the City is allowed to levy in addition to state statutory and City Charter limits.”
The ballot initiative would allow the city to issue $250 million in bonds in order to demolish 8,000 homes and secure up to 8,000 salvageable homes so they can be resold. While bonds are generally funded through an increase in property taxes, Mayor Duggan has stressed that would not be the case if Proposal N is approved. That is because the tax rate was supposed to decrease slightly in the next fiscal year. So, if approved property taxes would remain the same. A ‘yes’ vote supports the $250 million bond initiative. A ‘no’ opposes it.