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Petition Signatures at Stake on Appeal

By Jeff Burtka posted 12-20-2021 08:37


A recent appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court could result in the rejection of signatures that two groups, Secure MI Vote and Unlock Michigan, have gathered for ballot initiatives.

In October, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that two amendments to the Michigan Election Law, a 15 percent geographical limit on voter signatures in MCL 168.471 and the affidavit requirement of MCL 168.482a, are unconstitutional. League of Women Voters of Michigan v Secretary of State, Nos 357984, 357986, ___ Mich App ___, ___ NW2d ___   (Oct 29, 2021) (LVW II).

However, the court upheld the requirement under MCL 168.482 that petitions contain a checkbox stating whether a signature gatherer is being paid. Id. The court changed course from its holding in a now-vacated decision that the checkbox requirement is unconstitutional. League of Women Voters of Michigan v Secretary of State, 331 Mich App 156, 952 NW2d 491 (2020) (LWV I).

Based on an opinion of Attorney General Dana Nessel and the court of appeals decision in LWV I, the Board of State Canvassers approved both groups’ petition forms that do not include the checkbox, and the groups have been collecting signatures with those approved forms.

In light of the court of appeals decision, the groups asked the board to approve updated petition forms containing the checkbox, but the board split along party lines with the two Democrats voting no and both Republicans voting yes. However, Democratic board member Julie Matzurak says the signatures that the groups obtained should count because they were collected on approved forms. In addition, the board has approved filing an amicus curiae brief asking for the supreme court’s ruling to apply only to future petitions.

For now, the two groups must wait to find out if their acquired signatures are valid, but they might not have to wait long for a decision. The supreme court ordered the court of appeals to conduct an abbreviated briefing schedule with a decision deadline of November 1, and the parties have met the supreme court’s requirement to file an appeal by November 15.