A extended voting rights proposal to make changes to Michigan’s elections – including establishing early voting in the state – failed to land a spot on the ballot this fall after the state elections panel hung Wednesday on whether to certify the Promote Voting Amendment for the ballot.
Organizers collected enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, according to the state’s Office of Elections. But canvassers debated how to handle a challenge to the proposal, alleging that the petition form circulated by organizers did not indicate which sections of the Michigan Constitution would be affected if the proposal was put on the ballot and adopted by voters.
The Board of State Solicitors deadlocked on a motion to adopt the recommendation issued by the Office of Elections to certify the Promoting the Vote proposal.
The two Republican members of the Board of State Solicitors – Tony Daunt and Richard Houskamp – voted against putting Promote the Vote on this fall’s ballot while the two Democratic members – Mary Ellen Gurewitz and Jeannette Bradshaw – voted in favor of putting it on the ballot. Voting leaves the Promote Voting proposal off the ballot for now. Promote the Vote immediately vowed to go to court and expressed confidence that the proposal would eventually get a spot on the ballot.
Prior to the meeting, the Elections Office declined to issue a recommendation on a challenge the amendment Promote the vote which alleged that the petition circulated by the group did not list all of the articles of the state constitution that it would repeal. The bureau’s report said the challenge “raises legal arguments regarding the meaning of the Michigan Constitution as interpreted by the Michigan Supreme Court; the staff makes no recommendation as to the merits of the legal arguments raised.
State solicitors heard from attorneys for Defend Your Vote — the group that filed the challenge — and Promote the Vote.
Jonathan Koch, an attorney for Defend Your Vote, argued that canvassers cannot certify a ballot proposal if the petition form is insufficient.
The canvassers asked if they had the power at this point in the process to hear the challenge since they had already approved the Promote Petition form and if they could even hear the challenge as it raised legal questions about how the amendment would interact with parts of Michigan. Constitution if adopted by voters.
“Now is not the time to go back and review what has already been done,” Promote the Vote attorney Christopher Trebilcock told canvassers. He disputed the challengers’ claims that the proposed constitutional amendment would render inoperative several provisions currently in Michigan’s Constitution. “Let the people vote on this proposal,” he said, banging his fist on the table.
During extensive debate among canvassers, Bradshaw noted that the council had already approved the petition form to promote the vote before it was released, noting that concerns about potentially missing constitutional provisions that the proposed amendment would impact n had not been raised at that time.
Daunt said just because an issue came up later in the process doesn’t mean canvassers should dismiss it. “Although frustrating, we should strive to get it right,” he said, calling it “prejudicial to the voters of this state” if presented with a proposal that is unclear.
Gurewitz said the board was only responsible at this stage in the process for determining whether organizers had collected enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. “And, on that question, I think we know the answer.”
Promoting Votes and Reproductive Freedom for All — which drafted the abortion rights amendment also considered by the Board of State Solicitors on Wednesday — was expected to garner just over 425,000 signatures from valid voters each. Promote the Vote grossed over half a million.
Michigan voters in 2018 approved a constitutional amendment proposed by Promote the Vote to allow every voter in the state to vote by mail for any reason and allow eligible residents to register to vote on Election Day . Among the proposed changes, this year’s amendment from the group seeks to expand on that earlier proposal by increasing access to mail-in voting and anticipating GOP-led efforts following the 2020 presidential election to enact a strict voter identification rule for those voting in person. and a brand new one for absentee voters.
The secretary of state must certify the contents of the ballot for county clerks by 5 p.m. Sept. 9. Clerks must begin mailing ballots to military and foreign voters by Sept. 24 and to voters who requested mail-in ballots by Sept. 29.
Clara Hendrickson audits Michigan issues and politics as a body member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support his work at bit.ly/freepRFA. Contact her at email@example.com or 313-296-5743. Follow her on Twitter @clarajanehen.