Christine has an M.A. in American Studies, the study of American history/society/culture. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer.
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.
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:
- Organize: Coordinate a group of people who share your concern over an issue. Commit to staying informed and taking action on that issue.
- Personal Contact With Legislators: Educate yourself about the bill, or issue of interest, and then contact the office of your legislator to find a time to meet in person.
- Letter-Writing and Email: Find out the address of where to send a message based on your district and then craft a personal message about the issue.
Running for Office
Now for one of the biggest ways you can participate in government: actually run for office! Here's how you can qualify for each type of office within the Michigan state government (as of 2016):
- Township Office: You don't have to own property in your township, but must have lived there for at least 30 days and be a voter within the township (which means you also must be 18 years of age and a U.S. citizen).
- State Representative or Senator: You must be a U.S. citizen and a voter in the district you want to represent. You also must be at least 21 years old.
- Governor: Eligibility is a bit tougher for this one. You must be at least 30 years of age and must have been a voter in the state for at least four years.
As a Michigan citizen, you have multiple ways you can make a mark on your government. If you're a U.S. citizen, you can run for public office and vote in state elections, including recalls to remove an official from office, initiatives to propose legislation and amendments, and referendums to approve or deny legislature.
If you're a U.S. citizen or green card holder, you can make financial contributions to the campaign of your choice, up to certain limits. Other ways to contribute include organizing with others and communicating with your legislators. You may also choose to volunteer your time to a campaign or issue.
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