Citizen Participation in Michigan's Government

Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies, the study of American history/society/culture. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer.

Want to play a role in Michigan's government? Consider your options for how to impact your state, including voting, contributing to campaigns, running for office, and communicating with legislators.


Have you ever voted? Do you feel just a little bit powerful as you make your selections and submit your votes? That's the thrill of citizen participation, which involves each individual playing a role in government.

To vote in the state of Michigan, you need to be:

  • A U.S. citizen
  • At least 18 years old by the day of the election
  • A resident of Michigan and of the city or township where you'll be voting
  • Not convicted of a crime and currently imprisoned

Voting isn't just for presidential elections and primaries. Many other elected officials, such as members of Congress and members of the state legislature, along with the governor and representatives of local government, are also elected through the ballot.


What if a significant portion of the voters are dissatisfied with the performance of a public official? It could be time for a recall. This process starts when a petition is developed and circulated to gain support to remove the official. If there's enough support, a recall election will be part of the next general election, providing voters with an opportunity to choose a candidate that opposes the official in question, even if that official's term isn't up yet.

Ballot Initiatives and Referendums

Who makes the laws at the state level? The answer might seem simple: the state legislature. Yet this isn't the only way that laws are proposed and modified in Michigan. Citizens can also petition to have new legislation considered on the ballot. They can raise questions about existing legislation, and can even propose amendments to the Michigan State Constitution. These are known as ballot initiatives. It may help to remember that initiatives are ''initiated'' by voters themselves, starting with petitions to gain support for their cause. Referendums, on the other hand, originally start with the legislature, not the voter. The legislature creates a law or amendment to the Constitution and then asks the voters to approve or reject it.

Supporting a Campaign

So there's an election coming up and you have particular candidate in mind that represents your views well. What can you do? Let's explore two options: financial contributions and volunteering.

Financial Contributions

Bring out the credit card! If you are a U.S. citizen or even have your green card, you can make a financial contribution to support the campaign of your choice so that the message of your candidate can go further than it would without your support. As an individual, you will face limits to the total contributions you can make. For instance, as of 2016, for many state level offices, like the Governor, you would max out your individual contribution at $6,800. The limit is much less for State Senators ($2,000) and State Representatives ($1,000).

Federal offices, like U.S. President, have their own limitations, depending on whether you are giving to a candidate, a political party, or a political action committee (PAC), which is an organization created to raise funds to campaign for candidates. You may have heard of Super PACs, also known independent-expenditure-only political committees. Super PACs grew in influence when they were allowed by a Supreme Court decision in 2010. Super PACs can accept unlimited contributions, including those from corporations and unions.


Money isn't the only valuable tool in campaigns. Volunteering your time is another way to contribute to a campaign. As a volunteer, you may engage in canvassing, or directly contacting voters by phone, email, text, or in person to support voter registration, participation in elections, or to educate and persuade others about your campaign. You may also contribute other talents to the cause.

Communicating and Organizing

What else can you do if you are a concerned citizen in the state of Michigan? How do you compete with all of the other big voices lobbying out there? According to A Citizen's Guide to State Government by the 2015-2016 Michigan Legislature, there's a lot you can do to keep your legislators in the loop regarding your views. Here are three ideas:

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