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November 2023

Progress made in Michigan on the issues of expanded voting access since Proposal 3 won at the ballot box in 2018, followed by Proposal 2 in 2022, is now threatened by a federal lawsuit spearheaded by 11 Republican state lawmakers, backed by two far-right groups.

The group of legislators challenging what voters state-wide approved in both elections includes three lawmakers from Oakland County – Michigan Senator Jim Runestad from White Lake, along with state Reps. Matt Maddock of Milford and Josh Schriver of Oxford.

I won't comment, for now, on the philosophical/political world views of the group of lawmakers, but you can draw your own conclusion when one considers that the sponsors of the lawsuit in federal district court for the Western District of Michigan include two 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations – Michigan Fair Elections and the Great Lakes Justice Center.

The Michigan Fair Elections group is one of the prominent members of the election denial movement. The group recruited and mentored election challengers the last couple of elections which one of their members framed as a “spiritual battle,” one that included a call by one member for rerunning the race for governor in Michigan when Republican Tudor Nixon flamed out. This group spent considerable energy attempting to defeat the 2022 election ballot issue. The Great Lake Justice Center drinks much of the same Kool-Aid, but with an even heavier religious bent, filing lawsuits on a broader range of social issues that are de rigueur nowadays with the far-right ideological extremists.

Just to refresh everyone's memory about the two ballot proposals, Proposal 3 of 2018, also known as the Promote The Vote Initiative, restored straight-ticket voting that Republican legislators eliminated in 2015 after being available to voters for 127 years; allows “no reason” absentee voting, something that is available in nearly 40 states; same day registration; added time for members of the military to vote; and provides for audit of all election results. The proposal was approved by 66.92 percent of Michigan voters and received the support in Oakland County of 70.35 percent of those casting ballots.

Proposal 2 from last November created a nine-day early voting period; state funded drop boxes for ballots; requires the state to fund pre-paid postage for all absentee ballots; allows local government to accept charitable and in-kind donations to run elections, which are expected to cost more; and prohibits “threatening or intimidation conduct” or laws burdening the right to vote. Proposal 2 passed by 59.99 percent state-wide and by 60 percent in Oakland County.

The lawsuit filed by GOP lawmakers asks the court to declare both ballot proposals as unconstitutional based on the U.S. Constitution. They are placing their wager on the proposals being a violation of Article I, Section 4, Clause 1, which says that “The times, places and manor of holding elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature therein...” Following that logic, the proposals have usurped from state lawmakers in Michigan the sole power to regulate elections.

On first reading, it sounds like this lawsuit has legs. However, the federal courts have ruled in a few cases in recent years on election law disputes at the state level that would lead one to believe that the courts will likely toss out this lawsuit.

The plaintiffs' attorney, noted Minnesota attorney/disruptor and far-right sympathizer Erick Kaardal, has reportedly answered critics by saying that this lawsuit varies greatly from other cases because of the specific wording in the Constitution.

Sounds clear enough to a layman like this writer but then I came across in my research a 2015 ruling in a case involving the Arizona independent redistricting commission in which plaintiff lawmakers argued that their power was undermined by a citizen-initiated petition drive that put the issue on the ballot. The court ruled that the term “legislature” can be construed broadly enough that lawmaking could include initiative petitions to write laws because citizens are the “font of governmental power.”

Twenty-six states currently allow at least some form of initiative petitions when it come to letting the electorate write laws – 18 of those states allow for constitutional amendments to be subject to petition drives to place them on the ballot.

Initiative petitions in the legislative process is a form of direct democracy. In its purest form, it is grassroots governing, bypassing the legislature.

As we have seen in Michigan, some of our best laws and changes to the Michigan Constitution are the direct result of action on the part of the public that has in many cases attempted to get the legislature to make the changes. Failing that, the only route remaining is the initiative petition which requires considerable work and expense. But when lawmakers ignore overwhelming sentiment from the electorate, there is no choice.

That's no doubt why the Republican controlled legislature in recent years has tried to make it more difficult for initiative petitions. It boils down to those in power attempting to restrict anything that could represent a loss of control. A good illustration of how absolute power corrupts absolutely, as the saying goes.

In the case of the lawsuit over the two voting access proposals that were on the ballot, those are a direct result of lawmakers refusing to respond to citizen requests in recent sessions or attempting to make it more difficult for voters to cast ballots. In response, an initiative petition process produced Proposal 3 and Proposal 2 which give us all increased access to voting. Better yet, they stand as amendments to the Michigan Constitution, making it hard for devious lawmakers to restrict voting in the future.

As for the Oakland County lawmakers who are part of the attempt to have Proposal 2 and 3 declared unconstitutional, they obviously have no shame. I took time to review voting results – precinct by precinct – in each of their communities. While in a few communities the 2018 and 2022 ballot questions struggled a bit, in many communities they carried overwhelmingly, which prompts the question to Oakland legislators who have signed on to this lawsuit – who do you represent, the GOP here which has an established track record in Michigan of attempting to make it more difficult to vote and self govern, or the electorate?

Your involvement in this lawsuit makes the answer clear enough.

David Hohendorf



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