Group challenges signatures for ballot initiative scrapping Whitmer’s emergency powers

By: - April 9, 2021 4:33 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

Keep MI Safe, a group that backs Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive powers exercised during the pandemic, on Friday filed a challenge against Unlock Michigan’s petition effort, alleging conflicts of interest and defective signatures, among other issues. 

The conservative Unlock Michigan coalition turned in signatures last year to overturn the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945, a law that Whitmer was previously relying on to issue executive orders during the pandemic. The Michigan Supreme Court overturned the law in October and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has since been issuing epidemic orders.

Keep MI Safe is arguing that the petition effort should not be reviewed by the Board of State Canvassers and should be thrown out for “an ongoing criminal investigation [by the attorney general], conflicts of interest on the Board of Canvassers and multiple clear violations of Michigan election law.”

“The Board of Canvassers must disqualify every signature collected illegally and launch its own investigation of Unlock Michigan given multiple media reports on its illegal tactics and unsavory characters employed by this irresponsible effort,” said Mark Brewer, an attorney for Keep Michigan Safe and former Michigan Democratic Party chair. “In addition, the petition form is defective and violates Michigan law in numerous ways and should be thrown out. Despite public pronouncements, Unlock Michigan lacks sufficient signatures to be qualified based on a comprehensive review of the public sample that shows numerous deficiencies, rendering this effort ineligible to proceed.”

The Secretary of State has not yet completed the verification process yet, but if there are enough signatures, the GOP-led Legislature could approve the measure or it would go before voters on the 2022 ballot. Whitmer does not have the power to veto the measure.

Keep MI Safe did its own review of the signatures and found “numerous defective signatures, duplicates and errors by circulators.”

In its review of the 500-signature sample, Brewer said the coalition found at least 278 defective signatures, duplicates, unregistered voters and inadequate signatures.

The coalition also argues that Board of State Canvassers member Tony Daunt should recuse himself from considering the Unlock Michigan petition of his position as executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, which is backed by the billionaire DeVos family. 

Daunt did not respond to a request to comment on the challenge.

“There has been at least nine posts over the last 12 months that the Freedom Fund has pushed in support of Unlock Michigan in criticizing the governor’s emergency powers,” said Chris Trebilcock of Clark Hill, another attorney for Keep Michigan Safe. “There’s no way that Mr. Daunt can fulfill his oath of office under the constitution and serve and uphold Michigan law. … There will always be doubt whether he’s furthering and protecting the interests of the people or he’s furthering the interests of the Freedom Fund.”

The coalition also challenged Unlock Michigan’s petition for issues pertaining to the petition itself, stating that it “is defective in several ways in violation of Michigan law “ and “the petition language violates Michigan election law, omits crucial information required by law and is misleading and confusing to signers.”

Keep Michigan Safe urges the Board of State Canvassers to investigate “illegal conduct on the part of Unlock Michigan,” “illegal and improper practices of Unlock Michigan,” and should “subpoena records and individuals involved with Unlock Michigan to investigate its illegal practices, and no action should be taken until this investigation is conducted.”

“Failure to address these fundamental and keystone issues will destroy the integrity of our initiative process in this case and in future cases,” Trebilcock said. 

Unlock Michigan spokesperson Fred Wszolek responded to the challenge on Friday in a series of tweets.

The opposition to #UnlockMichigan has now fully transitioned from ‘Keep Michigan Safe’ to ‘Keep Michigan’s Courts Busy’ with the frivolous objections they’ve raised today,” Wszolek tweeted

Wszolek denied Keep Michigan Safe’s allegation that there aren’t sufficient signatures, adding that “now it’s up to the Board of State Canvassers to do its job, and for the Michigan House and Senate to finish the job.”

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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.