Blog Posts For The Week Of July 20, 2016 Through July 26, 2016

Time To Revisit No-Reason Absentee Voting?
By John Lindstrom

Posted: July, 26 2016 2:57 PM

Attorney General Bill Schuette has confirmed he is appealing, and appealing immediately, a federal court decision issued last week that struck down Michigan’s newly enacted ban on straight-party voting.

The Legislature passed and Governor Rick Snyder signed the bill ending the practice after more than 100 years. But U.S. District Court Judge Gershwin Drain ruled ending straight ticket voting could drastically affect minority voters, and thus it was unconstitutional.

The state municipal clerks asked that no appeal be made of the ruling until after the November election. Mr. Schuette feels it is important to try to get some resolution on the matter before absentee ballots were printed and distributed in late September.

When the bill was working its way through the Legislature late in the fall and early winter of 2015, this reporter talked to a couple Republican local clerks and who served in areas that voted heavily Republican.

I wasn’t able to talk to enough clerks to make a solid story, but what several clerks said has stuck with me.

These Republican clerks were largely neutral on ending straight-party voting, but they told me that if straight-party voting was eliminated, it was vital the state adopt a no-reason absentee law.

Mr. Snyder, in fact, called on the Legislature to consider such a law when he approved the straight-party voting ban. The House passed HB 4724* allowing for no-reason absentee voting but the Senate has refused to move the legislation.

The reason the clerks, Republicans remember, wanted no-reason absentee voting was to help to manage the voting process, to keep it timely and orderly. Ballots, especially in Michigan, are long. It takes time for voters to go through each office, and the longer it takes the process to vote, the more frustrated voters in line get. The more frustrated a voter gets, the more likely the voter is to not vote. And no clerk wants to see a voter drop out.

Getting around the issue of how long it takes to vote can’t be solved just by adding more voting booths and workers, they said. The workers are volunteers and it is often difficult to recruit enough as it is, the clerks said. And voting booths cost money and storage space.

Voters could just vote for the top of the ticket and leave, cutting time. But the clerks took it quite personally that voters should vote for all races and issues. Voting for the library board is certainly as important to those candidates as is voting for president. Likewise, all residents will be affected by tax decisions which should be decided by the largest number of voters possible.

Yes, there are the arguments that a voter should vote for the person. But as each party spends its time urging voters support every one of their candidates and not one of the rogues on the other side, one can see how the attraction of straight-party voting might work. And as the GOP clerks I spoke with said, straight-party voting saves time and makes running an election more efficient.

Whatever happens with Mr. Schuette’s appeal will have no effect on enacting no-reason absentee voting. However, the brief legislative September sessions will take place before absentee ballots are available. No doubt local clerks, Republicans and Democrats both, would be interested in seeing some action on HB 4724*.

The GOP Convention Isn’t Sending Real Good Vibes
By John Lindstrom

Posted: July, 21 2016 3:52 PM

Have a bad convention, you generally have a bad campaign.

And unless Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump creates some miracle during his acceptance speech on this the last day of the 2016 Republican National Convention, the show in the city where this reporter’s parents were married will go down as a bad convention.

Now, it is not completely destined that a bad convention means a bad outcome for the party in November. Clearly the candidate, and whatever all the candidates encounter during the campaign, plays a large role in the outcome.

But a look at the last century shows the party’s with the roughest conventions have resulted in candidates losing the election. Even the surprising loss in 1948 for Michigan native, New York Governor Thomas Dewey, was presaged by a rougher convention than anticipated (there was some disagreement on a platform plank for a civil rights bill, and Mr. Dewey won nomination on the third ballot after defeating a slew of candidates that included Michigan U.S. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, California Governor Earl Warren, U.S. Army general and hero Douglas MacArthur and most notably Ohio conservative U.S. Sen. Robert Taft).

How did the Democrats do following their organized messes in 1924, 1968 and 1980? Or the Republicans in 1964, 1976 and 1992? A bad convention makes it harder to pull together the needed energy and organizational discipline for the hard months to November. And the historic polling data is pretty clear in modern times: The candidate with a lead at Labor Day, about a month after the conventions, wins the popular vote (but as Al Gore found, not necessarily the vote that matters the Electoral College vote).

And this week? Well, we seem to have already forgotten about the rules fight on Monday that led to U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) shouting uselessly at the podium that a call for a roll call vote on the rules was being ignored followed by the delegations of Colorado and Iowa walking out.

And the kerfuffle during the nomination process on Tuesday, the 19 delegates for the District of Columbia were tallied as voting for Mr. Trump when it fact none of them was pledged to Mr. Trump has fallen away. Again, their efforts to be recognized to protest were ignored.

Melania Trump’s otherwise pleasant speech on Monday evening got caught up in a controversy on plagiarism. Not a major controversy perhaps, but a friend of this reporter – a former reporter herself, now a teacher and a Republican in Alabama – said on Facebook that she intends to use the speech on her lesson on plagiarism to her writing classes.

Then, there was Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s speech on Wednesday. Gosh-a-roo, what to make of a speech where Mr. Cruz was probably booed more for not endorsing Mr. Trump than Nelson Rockefeller was booed in 1964 for defending Republican liberalism (Republican liberalism, it really did exist, look it up).

Michigan political strategist Stu Sandler said on Facebook that the Texas delegation, staying at the same hotel that he is, had several different views. Some were upset with Mr. Cruz, some were surprised at the booing he received.

Former Michigan Republican Chair Saul Anuzis, who was a top campaign official for Mr. Cruz, said on Facebook there was some disappointment that Mr. Cruz did not make an endorsement. However, Mr. Anuzis also said Mr. Trump had approved the speech, and former U.S. Speaker Newt Gingrich said Mr. Cruz called on supporting candidates with conservative, constitutional views.”

Mr. Cruz, Mr. Anuzis said, “laid down a challenge for ALL candidates to stick to our core principles.”

Then when Mr. Cruz said he was not going to endorse someone who attacked his wife and suggested his father may have had a hand in the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy, former Michigan Cruz official Wendy Day said she did not “blame him one bit.”

But, again, a bad convention does not make a loss inevitable. The candidate plays a huge role in that. Ah yes, the candidate.

Mr. Trump did not help the convention nor himself with his New York Times interview in which he said the U.S. might not defend its NATO allies if those allies were behind on the bill. Then there was the way the controversy over his wife’s speech was allowed to fester into the convention’s third day. An anonymously sourced report claiming Mr. Trump’s son, Don Jr., had offered the vice presidency to Ohio Governor John Kasich in which Mr. Kasich would have control of domestic and foreign policy (which is kind of the president’s job) only further fanned the flames (Mr. Trump’s son has denied the claim).

Mr. Trump has already lost top Republican stalwarts in Michigan such as Betsy DeVos and former State Treasurer Doug Roberts. Such comments may make it harder to keep other top Republicans on the ship.

Therefore, to end this convention on a high note, Mr. Trump will have to pull off the political equivalent of handing out $1 million bills and a free puppy to everyone in the hall. The campaign awaits.

Community Colleges Struggling To Get Students Through
By Christopher Klaver
Staff Writer

Posted: July, 20 2016 3:42 PM

It was not exactly news, given that college and university graduation rates have been a topic of discussion in higher education appropriations committees for several years, but a report from the Center for Educational Performance and Information showing particularly community colleges getting fewer than half of their students to their goal is likely to put a new twist on those talks when the next round of budgets come through.

Community college officials have argued for some time that degree granting rates are not a fair measure, given the number of students who aim for either a certificate or a transfer to a university. But the report, using data provided by colleges and universities, shows even including those measures, colleges are seeing less than half of their students achieve their goal.

The report, the first based on a new database CEPI and the colleges and universities created that allows tracking students from high school through any of the state’s higher education institutions, showed the comprehensive completion rates on average below 40 percent in 2015 for all students who entered a community college between 2009 and 2013.

Of that 2009 cohort, only 37 percent had completed, meaning had earned an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree or a certificate or transferred to a four-year institution. That was only slightly more than the 35 percent who completed an associate’s or transferred.

As might be expected, that average completion rate slid as students had fewer years in school, with only 13 percent of those who entered in 2013 having completed under the comprehensive definition.

There were a few outliers in the numbers. Of the students who entered Kellogg Community College in 2009, 70 percent had completed, as had 51 percent of those who entered that school in 2011. And 52 percent of those who enrolled in Kirtland Community College in 2013 completed in that two years.

On the other end, only 24 percent of Wayne County Community College’s 2009 cohort had completed by 2015.

Overall, though, the colleges were close, with 2009 cohort numbers between 30 percent and 45 percent. Again with some outliers, the completion rates for the 2013 cohort stood largely in the teens.

The universities fared a bit better, but still showed completion rates that would earn a high school a potential review. The comprehensive completion for the four-year institutions included a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree or a certificate, and 67 percent of those who entered in 2009 achieved that. Only 40 percent of the 2011 cohort had completed.

Again, there were some outliers: both Michigan State University and the University of Michigan got more than half of their students to completion in all three cohorts. For the 2009 cohort, they graduated 84 percent and 89 percent respectively.

Eastern Michigan University, Saginaw Valley State University, U-M Flint and Wayne State University never crossed 50 percent for any of the three cohorts studied.

Ferris State University and Michigan Technological University are not included because they had not completed all of their records for 2015 in time for the report.

As with the K-12 system, the reasons for these completion rates are likely many and varied and there are likely many factors outside the control of the schools. But it is also likely that legislators providing money to these programs are going to want better explanations and plans to move those numbers up.

Unlike the K-12 system, the state cannot, particularly for the universities, simply step in and take control. The universities have constitutional autonomy and the colleges, while receiving state funds, are largely controlled by their local boards and funded with tuition and local taxes. Legislators may have some less leverage, but one can anticipate they use what they can to push change.

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