State voters could be facing a near record number of statewide ballot proposals when the November 8 general election arrives, including two competing proposals designed to enshrine in the Michigan Constitution protections for voting rights.
As it stands at this writing, there are efforts underway to gather signatures for a dozen proposals, some initiative legislation in nature and others as amendments to the Constitution, which could prove to be the largest number of state issues to be decided by voters since the 1978 general election when voters determined the fate of 11 state issues, as provided under the 1963 Michigan Constitution adopted by the electorate.
Under the Michigan Constitution citizens can establish new laws or amend the Constitution by gathering petition signatures. For an amendment to the Constitution, signatures on petitions must equal at last 10 percent of the votes cast most recently for the office of governor, which for this year is just over 425,000 signatures. To enact a law, petition signatures must be at least equal or exceed eight percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, which for the November ballot would mean just over 340,000 signatures. Keep in mind that initiative law issues are submitted to the legislature, which then has 40 days to either approve the law or else it goes on the ballot, so it's possible not all of this year's issues will face the voting public.
To begin the task of gathering signatures, a petition must be submitted to the Secretary of State or to the Michigan Board of Canvassers which can rule on the format of the petition to avoid problems later. So far, only three proposed issues have not had their petition format approved. Signed petitions to create law are due by 5 p.m. on June 1 and for amendments to the Constitution, the due date is 5 p.m. July 11.
The issues range from deciding increased minimum wages; decriminalizing psychedelic drugs; criminal sentencing laws; payday loan restrictions; reproductive rights; private school tuition/tax break considerations; requiring “forensic audits” of election results; restricting emergency executive orders by state and local officials; along with several voter rights issues.
One proposal – Secure MI Vote – has received the lion's share of attention in the media since its introduction last year. It is a proposal basically put forth by the Republican party and state lawmakers from the GOP as a way to circumvent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer who has vetoed bills pushed by the Republican controlled legislature – much of what this petition would enact into law without a chance of a veto from the governor. Critics – this writer included – see this petition drive as a solution in search of a problem coming off the 2020 election and the Big Lie movement that sprung from that vote. Funding (substantial) for this effort has come from dark-money sources connected with conservatives and the GOP. There's even been an $80,000 donation from state Republican party co-chair Ron Weiser.
But my concern this month is not the Secure Mi Vote effort. The petition drives that warrant detailed consideration and debate are those put forth by the Promote the Vote 2022 and MI Right To Vote, both of which are asking voters to amend the Michigan Constitution to protect and expand voters' rights.
The coalition behind Promote the Vote 2022 includes Promote the Vote Michigan, the group that brought the successful 2018 voting-related ballot proposal to voters, the ACLU of Michigan and the League of Women Voters Michigan. It's a powerhouse coalition.
The people behind MI Right To Vote include Jan BenDor, state coordinator for the Michigan Election Reform Alliance; attorney Fred Green who was on the policy committee to end gerrymandering; and Dr. Robert A. Sedler, distinguished professor of constitutional law at Wayne State university.
Petitions for both efforts assure voters rights in similar fashion with some variations – requirements that a ballot drop box per 15,000 voters be provided; the right to sign an affidavit to vote in lieu of a picture ID, as well as assuring that current ID requirements are sufficient; preventing any requirement that all or part of a social security number be provided to vote; mandating state funded return postage for absentee ballots; allowing for publicly-disclosed charitable donations to conduct elections; and requirements for early voting.
The Promote The Vote 2022 petition also provides that a registered voter can sign an application for an absentee voter ballot and indicate that they want absentee ballots sent in all future elections without having to apply each time. I am assured that there are safeguards addressing allegations that such a system could contribute to voter fraud, so any initial concerns I may have had are resolved.
MI Right To Vote is also going to be circulating a second petition for another amendment to the Michigan Constitution which has caught my attention. This one puts an end to some of the underhanded moves we have seen from the GOP-controlled Senate and House in past years. For starters, it would eliminate the practice of lawmakers attaching spending allocations to bills, which under the current Constitution prevents citizens from petitioning for a referendum on laws with which they don't agree. All such initiative proposed laws would be required to skip the legislature and go directly to the next general election ballot. For the record, Michigan is an outlier among the states by allowing initiative legislation to be routed first to lawmakers.
While I was overjoyed that someone is taking the initiative to address the deceptive voting proposals put forth the GOP-controlled House and Senate, I am very concerned that two similar but competing proposals is a set up for confusion on the part of the voting public, possibly threatening passage in November.
The ideal situation would have been to have had only one voter protection petition circulating for changes to the Constitution but let's see if the MI Right To Vote group really has the juice – both financially and as an organization– to gather sufficient signatures to make the November ballot.
The more established group – Promote The Vote 2022 – successful in 2018, with an even broader organization working on this ballot issue, and with a track record in the state, may be the best bet to cement our rights as voters in the Constitution so look for an opportunity (promotethevote2022.com) to add your name to their petition drive.
It's critical that we amend the Michigan Constitution to both end the ongoing attempts that will erode our rights as voters and make voting even more accessible for everyone.