January 29, 2022

All Votes, All Voices

Guest Opinion
By Nancy Flanagan | Jan. 1, 2022

I am a retired teacher. The last year I taught, the fourth graders in my school held a mock presidential election the day before the real election. I have a photograph of myself presenting my personal voter registration card, beat up from being carried in my wallet for decades, to a cluster of nine-year-olds from different classes.

They looked at the card as if it were the Rosetta Stone, the key to understanding democracy in America — or maybe they were just trying to figure out how old I was. Their teacher took a photo of us, and because the next class wasn’t yet waiting in line to vote, I gave her class, all of whom had been assigned engaged-citizen roles in managing the election, a little pep talk about the power of a vote.

I told them how I’d voted in every presidential election and every midterm election since I was eligible — and most primaries and local elections, too. I talked about how elections had consequences, even for kids, and how voting is both a duty and a gift, one that many people had marched or died to achieve. Free and fair elections, open to all, are the cornerstone of our way of government, I told them. And when all voices are heard, we’re stronger.

Civics 101. Isn’t that what everybody learned in school?

Apparently not, because Michigan lawmakers have proposed a series of bills limiting and setting barriers to the vote. They’re not alone in this. Statehouses across the nation are full of hand-wringing legislators trying to make sure they stay in office by making it difficult for some people — generally those who support the other party — to vote.      

These legislators employ a long list of strategies, from carving out favorable districts to limiting mail-in voting, availability of drop boxes, and allowable time frames. And there’s corporate money involved, as these lawmakers and their wealthy donors hope to maintain power by rigging the rules in favor of themselves. Luckily, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said she will veto any bills here in Michigan that would restrict access to the polls.

In the 2018 midterm, two pro-democracy initiatives passed by big margins in Michigan. We overwhelmingly voted for Proposal 2, to get rid of gerrymandering. We also supported Proposal 3, approving mail-in voting for everyone and same-day voter registration, among other pro-voter reforms. It’s clear by the number of votes cast in those proposals that a majority of folks in Michigan want voting to be convenient and accessible —and the voting rights reforms we passed in 2018 helped bolster record turnout in the 2020 election.           

But remember: The status of our democracy depends on the people who set the rules. Petitions for an anti-voter ballot initiative — deceptively called Secure MI Vote — would restrict our voting rights, and our Republican-controlled legislature could potentially pass the initiative themselves and circumvent both a vote by the public and the governor’s veto power. It’s a last-ditch effort by Republicans to set their own rules so they can keep the legislature in control.

A few weeks ago at a street fair event in Leelanau, I saw a little card table set up with a “Secure MI Vote” sign. The guy collecting signatures was spewing out phrases perpetuating the “Big Lie” and aimed at confusing voters. Sadly, folks clustered around the table. It was discouraging to see people swayed into supporting anti-voter schemes by false and manipulative talking points. The 2020 election was the most secure and successful in our state’s history, and the proposal the Secure Mi Vote initiative promises would only serve to disenfranchise voters. The last thing we need is anti-voter laws that cut into the very democracy we need to solve problems.
 
Now, here’s what I’d tell these folks: Decline to sign that petition.

I think about the kids in that photo. They’re in their 20s now, and hopefully voting.

On the day the photo was taken, as I was talking to the students, one of them asked whom I’d voted for. Quickly, their teacher reminded them that an individual’s vote is private, and the moment passed.

I know, because I lived in that county, that my choice in that mock election would not have been the majority choice. But my vote still counted, and that's why we must work to make sure that all voters have their say.

If I could talk to those kids one more time, this is what I would say: Get engaged in your community. Choose your information sources wisely. Vote — but respect everyone else’s right to vote, too. We’re stronger when we all have a say.

Nancy Flanagan is a retired teacher who is passionate about ensuring democracy survives for the next generation. She writes from Cedar. 

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