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Opponents file challenges to Michigan abortion rights, voting rights ballot measures


Opponents file challenges to Michigan abortion rights, voting rights ballot measures

Aug 18, 2022 | 6:19 pm ET
By Laina G. Stebbins Allison R. Donahue
Opponents file challenges to Michigan abortion rights, voting rights ballot measures
The Promote the Vote 2022 coalition announces during a Lansing press conference that it has filed nearly 670,000 signatures, July 11, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Two proposed amendments to the Michigan Constitution have been hit with challenges to the content of their petitions, which representatives for the Reproductive Freedom for All and Promote the Vote 2022 measures have already called “absurd” and “bogus.”

Thursday was the deadline for opponents to file challenges to petitions.

To fail on petition signature grounds, the Reproductive Freedom For All (RFFA) amendment would need 44% of its signatures rejected, and Promote the Vote would need 37% nixed.

Both initiatives have stated that they had internal quality control processes in place to ensure a high rate of validity. RFFA’s internal review reportedly removed more than 150,000 signatures before the group submitted the rest.

RFFA challenge

Opponents of the Reproductive Freedom for All petition, which seeks to amend the state Constitution to protect reproductive freedom and Michiganders’ right to make and carry out decisions relating to pregnancy, filed a challenge arguing that a spacing issue in the petition text is reason to reject the petition. 

A spokesperson for the Citizens Supporting Michigan Women and Children, the opposing group, called the petition text “confusing gibberish” and cited 43 errors.

Portions of the petition language include a formatting error where the spacing was eliminated from the text. For example, one section of the language reads: “DECISIONSABOUTALLMATTERSRELATINGTOPREGNANCY.”

But Mark Brewer, an election lawyer who used to represent the RFFA coalition and former Michigan Democratic Party chair, called the challenge “frivolous” and said there are a number of instances where similar errors have been fixed and approved by the bureau.

“There are at least two constitutional amendments in the Constitution now that you could claim there are defects that cause them to get tossed out. I mean that’s just absurd,” Brewer said, noting that one of them is the amendment that raised the state’s drinking age to 21.

According to Section 168.482 of Michigan’s election code: The heading of each part of the petition must be printed in capital letters in 14-point boldface type; the 100-word summary must be printed in 12-point type; and the full text of the proposed amendment must be printed in 8-point type.

“When the statute doesn’t expressly, or even impliedly, require or bar something, it’s permitted,” Brewer said. “So there’s absolutely nothing in the statute which they can hang their hat on to say that somehow this lack of spacing is a defect in the petition, enough to throw it off the ballot.” 

A similar challenge came before the board earlier this year.

In early February, the Board of State Canvassers rejected the format of a ballot initiative petition because the union logo printed on the pages was too small. The ballot committee, Raise the Wage Michigan, sued the state board over the decision and argued that the state election code does not have font size requirements for logos, symbols, labels or other images on the petition.

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of the group in March, ordering that union labels on petition initiatives do not need to meet font size requirements that are mandated for text in the rest of the petitions.

“We are confident that we’re in compliance with all legal requirements for ballot proposals,” said Darci McConnell, RFFA spokesperson. “In fact, hundreds of thousands of Michiganders have spoken: more than 730,000 registered voters — a record number — have read, understood, and signed the petition in support of reproductive freedom for all.”

Opponents file challenges to Michigan abortion rights, voting rights ballot measures
Michigan Reproductive Freedom For All coalition announced Monday morning that would be filing more than 750,000 signatures during a press conference on July 11, 2022 | Allison R. Donahue

Promote the Vote 2022 challenge

The constitutional amendment to expand voting rights and access for Michiganders, known as Promote the Vote 2022, has also received a signature challenge from an opposing group called Defend Your Vote.

Defend Your Vote was formed specifically to oppose the ballot initiative. In its Thursday filing, it claims that the petition “fails to identify the inherent conflict between its wording and our current constitution.” In other words, Promote the Vote (PTV) allegedly does not clearly spell out what changes it would make to the Michigan Constitution.

Among other arguments, Defend Your Vote also argues that PTV fails to note that it would take away the state Legislature’s right to regulate elections or bar certain individuals from voting.

“This bogus, baseless and meritless complaint shows the lengths that special interests will go to rig our elections by making voting more difficult and less accessible for people across Michigan,” said Micheal Davis, executive director of Promote the Vote.

“Promote the Vote 2022 turned in nearly 670,000 signatures from voters across our state because they want safe and secure elections and to protect the right of every eligible citizen to vote. We are confident that Promote the Vote 2022 will appear on the November ballot and that the people of Michigan, not special interests or politicians, will decide.”

The coalition of voting rights groups turned in 669,972 signatures last month. If approved by voters in November, the amendment would take effect 45 days after Election Day.

The measure would amend the state constitution to allow nine days of early voting, allow voters to register absentee for all future elections, require more ballot drop boxes and more.

Opponents file challenges to Michigan abortion rights, voting rights ballot measures
Micheal Davis, Jr, Promote the Vote executive director, speaks at a Lansing press conference for the Promote the Vote 2022 ballot initiative, July 11, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Term limits amendment

One more proposed constitutional amendment would change the Michigan Constitution to allow legislators in either chamber to serve up to a total 12 years, while also requiring annual financial disclosures from legislators and state officers.

That measure will not see any challenges like those faced by the other two amendments, however. The Legislature voted in May to instead directly place the constitutional amendment on the ballot after weakening some of its requirements. The vote allowed the ballot committee to bypass having to collect more than 425,000 valid signatures.

The Michigan Legislative Term Limits and Financial Disclosure Amendment would reduce the state’s current system of term limits — three two-year House terms and two four-year Senate terms, for a maximum of 14 years — to a total of 12 years, while also allowing for six, two-year House terms, three, four-year Senate terms or a combination of the two.

Michigan has some of the strictest term limits in the nation, and is one of just six states with lifetime restrictions on legislative term limits.

Opponents file challenges to Michigan abortion rights, voting rights ballot measures
Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

Other petitions and rules

Other petitions, like the GOP-backed Secure MI Vote measure, missed the signature submission deadline and will not be appearing on the November ballot.

To place constitutional amendments on the ballot, groups must collect 425,059 valid signatures (10% of the last gubernatorial election). Ballot measures may circumvent the signature gathering requirements by receiving a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber, as one of the petitions has done.

The election bureau will offer ballot recommendations to state canvassers ahead of the board’s Aug. 31 meeting. The four-member, bipartisan Board of State Canvassers (BSC)  will then need to make a decision on each constitutional amendment by Sept. 9.

If the Michigan Bureau of Elections and BSC find that each coalition has filed enough valid signatures, the measures will go directly to the November ballot for voters to decide.