LGBTQ rights ballot initiative moves ahead with ‘sign online’ strategy

By: - April 13, 2020 12:37 pm

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Despite complications with gathering signatures in person due to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, the ballot campaign for an LGBTQ discrimination ban is moving forward with the use of online signatures. 

Fair and Equal Michigan wants to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination in jobs and housing. 

While other progressive groups have folded their ballot measure campaigns in the face of complications due to COVID-19, Fair and Equal Michigan announced Monday a transition to an electronic signature collection strategy. 

“To keep our supporters safe and to recognize the stay-at-home orders by the state, we are encouraging people to sign the petition for LGBTQ equality electronically during this unique moment,” said Co-Chair Trevor Thomas. “This transition to electronic signature collection will ensure Michigan voters can continue to participate in the democratic process and exercise their reserved constitutional right to initiate legislation while doing their part to stop the spread of coronavirus.”

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The group has already collected more than 150,000 signatures, and has until May 27, the state mandated deadline, to turn in 340,047 valid signatures required by the state. If it does, the Legislature has 40 days to adopt the measure or else it goes before statewide voters in November 2020.

From the beginning, the campaign had a risk-mitigation plan to collect 542,000 signatures, as some signatures can be declared invalid. Over the past few weeks, the campaign has been using mail-in petitions to collect signatures. 

“The right to initiative is fundamental in the Michigan Constitution,” said the campaign’s legal counsel, Steve Liedel. “And so, it’s a fundamental constitutional right that right now  is being impacted by the coronavirus because you exercise that right through petition. Government ordered limits on social gathering and required social distancing and limited interaction have meant that effectively it’s been near impossible to exercise the right by petitioners traditionally exercised.”

Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-41 on Thursday, which encourages the use of electronic signatures and remote notarization, witnessing and visitations during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Both the order and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA), which was passed in 2002, legally permit that a signature will not be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form.

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For a number of other ballot initiatives, the COVID-19 outbreak put a harsh stop to their 2020 campaigns. 

Ballot question committees have to gather at least 425,059 valid signatures for constitutional amendments, 340,047 for state statutes and 212,529 for veto referendums. 

In March, the Fair Tax Michigan campaign asked Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) for legislation that will allow an online petition signature option for this year. But a week later, the campaign came to the conclusion that without in-person canvassing, it would not be able to reach the signature goal it needed to be added to the ballot. 

The Coalition to Close Lansing Loopholes also folded their ballot proposal in March. The proposal sought to ban all gifts from lobbyists and amend the state Constitution limiting corporate lobbyists on the November ballot.

But the Fair and Equal Michigan group says time is of the essence, and waiting until 2022 isn’t a viable option for them. Efforts to protect LGBTQs from discrimination have failed to gain traction for years in the GOP-led Legislature.

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“The time is now, even though the time is difficult. I really believe that the steps in the next few days and weeks will determine if LGBTQ people obtain the same rights everyone else has,” Thomas said. “If we don’t go the citizen route, LGBTQ people are not going to have the rights for a very long time. So we are emphasizing that people sign the petition and we make history together.”

The group is encouraging supporters to sign the petition on the campaign website. Officials said the process only takes a few minutes and includes two-factor authentication. Users are required to enter a valid Michigan driver’s license or state identification card number. 

To validate signatures, the information provided will then be cross-referenced with Michigan’s list of registered voters.

The coalition contracted with DocuSign to process the electronic signatures, and says it is the most trusted and widely used electronic signature vendor and meets the requirements of the federal ESIGN Act and the UETA as adopted in Michigan. 

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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