Count the Votes, Then Let Votes Count



Preventing legitimate voters from going to the polls is bad, but rejecting the will of the voters after elections are settled may be even worse.

Consider what’s happening in Missouri, Wisconsin and Michigan.

In Missouri, voters who opposed right-to-work by a nearly 2-1 ratio just a few months ago may see their wishes thwarted by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

After legislators approved a bill last year that barred making union dues a condition of employment, petitions drew more than 300,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot in August. Robust opposition from labor unions and others helped reject right-to-work and sent what should be a strong message to legislators: Give it up.


Eric Burlison, a GOP state senator-elect from Springfield, obviously either did not hear what voters had to say or doesn’t care. In legislation ( prefiled for consideration in the General Assembly session beginning next month, he wants the issue to be considered again.

His specious reasoning: Basic rights should not be subject to limitation by a vote of the people.

“We would never put people’s religious freedom on the ballot, or free speech on the ballot,” Burlison told the Post-Dispatch. “This is a right of association that should not be put to a vote.”

Despite the strong Republican majorities in the Missouri House and Senate, Burlison’s colleagues should not so blithely dismiss what the voters had to say. If they do, voters should take note and use their power not only to reinforce their feelings about right-to-work but to choose legislators who respect the will of the people.

In Wisconsin, the effort to block results of the vote for governor combines chutzpah with a giant flip-flop.

When Republican Scott Walker was elected governor in 2010, he asked the Democrat he was replacing, Jim Doyle, to delay any new hires or administrative regulations in the final two months of his term. He also asked that implementation of the new federal health care law and contract negotiations with state employees be suspended until he could take office.

“I feel strongly that if new or updated rules were urgently needed, they would have been completed prior to now,” Walker wrote to the head of Doyle’s administration. “Reworking hastily implemented administrative rules may have a serious negative impact on Wisconsin’s ability to retain, expand and recruit jobs to Wisconsin.”

Fast forward to today. After voters narrowly rejected Walker’s bid for a third term as governor, he and the Republican majority in the Wisconsin Legislature suddenly adopted a totally different view of such matters. Bills passed by lame-duck legislators since the election and signed by Walker on Friday will sharply curtail the powers of the incoming governor, Democrat Tony Evers.

Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul had joined other Democrats in urging Walker to veto the legislation. And former Gov. Scott McCallum, the previous Republican to serve in the office before Walker, criticized the measures as having “the appearance to some of being a power grab.”

After Walker’s action, Evers said the soon-to-be-former governor “chose to ignore and override the will of the people.” He’s right. Watch for a legal challenge.

 In Michigan, action by legislators and the outgoing governor has elements of what is going on in both Missouri and Wisconsin.

In their lame-duck session after the election, GOP legislators moved toward stripping authority over campaign finance from the secretary of state – an office that will be filled by a Democrat come January — and give it instead to a bipartisan commission. Outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill Friday.

Snyder also signed bills passed by the Republican majority also passed bills that will weaken proposed laws requiring paid sick leave and a $12-an-hour minimum wage. 

The votes came after Democrats swept the top state offices in last month’s election. Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer has criticized the GOP effort to effectively neutralize voters’ preferences as expressed in November.

It’s sad to see politicians whose favored policies and candidates lose at the ballot box try to prevail by making end runs during lame-duck legislative sessions. It’s particularly galling when those actions run counter to earlier policy statements, as is the case in Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, Washington University law professor Greg Magarian says, the Wisconsin and Michigan gambits appear to be a “new normal” in party skirmishes.

“Republicans have declared all-out partisan war rather than make it a legal battle,” he says. “If the issue isn’t about constituents or constitutional law, their sole loyalty is to their party and its paymasters, and their sole aim is partisan power.”

American democracy is supposed to be a beacon for the rest of the world, but such actions certainly dim its attraction. Abraham Lincoln’s vision of government “of the people, by the people, for the people” may not be in danger of perishing from the earth, but its health could be a whole lot better.