As reported in the Detroit Free Press, the proposal, crafted in the wee hours (as those who wish to hide immoral ideas usually do) and attached to a state Senate campaign finance bill, would prohibit government entities from spending money on providing factual information within 60 days of an election. That means no community forums, no websites, no handouts with background or FAQs. Even answering a question from a voter could be a violation, according to the Michigan Municipal League.
Think about what this bill would mean. A school district asking for a large investment in facilities, or a township with a significant and complex ballot proposal on public safety, couldn’t provide information that voters need to make an informed decision. If such a prohibition extends to spending working hours answering questions, as the Municipal League suggests, even the news media could be cut out of gathering background to report on such proposals.
Dana Gill, director of government affairs for the Michigan Association of Counties, noted, “Local governments already are prevented by state law from using persuasive language to convince voters to approve a millage increase or special millage request. But voters have a right to know why the representatives they placed in office have placed an item on the ballot for their consideration.”
Supporters of this Soviet-style proposal no doubt will argue that the bill doesn’t eliminate education and awareness; it merely focuses it well in advance of election day. It also doesn’t appear to prohibit non-government advocacy groups from stating their case.
But voters rarely make up their minds on a ballot issue two months before going to the polls. Most decide within days, even hours, of casting their vote. And they want straightforward, factual information, not the slanted doom-and-gloom nor the Pollyanna-ish flyers that pepper their mailboxes in the run-up to Election Day.
The rationale for this is unfathomable. The risk to an informed electorate is frightening.
Gov. Rick Snyder reportedly has yet to review the bill. Let’s hope he stands up for an informed electorate and rejects so disastrous a proposal.
Meanwhile, every government entity, every voter, every person who cares about communication and transparency should speak out strongly against this travesty.