A supporter signs a One Fair Wage petition. | Ken Coleman
Walk along any of the high-traffic sidewalks on Michigan State University’s campus and you’re sure to be stopped by at least a few petition circulators working to gather signatures for one of more than a dozen ballot proposals being pursued in Michigan this year.
Voters across the state could face a decision in the November midterm elections on as many as 15 ballot proposals on issues ranging from voting rights to abortion to the minimum wage.
Eric Lupher, president and secretary of the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan, said that the number of petitions being circulated is “way more” than Michigan would see in a typical year.
One trend that Lupher identified in several of the proposals: circumventing Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to pass Republican legislation into law.
That’s because once a proposal has gathered enough signatures, the Legislature can vote to adopt the statutes, which would not be subject to the governor’s veto powers.
If the Legislature failed to adopt a statute within 40 days, it would be put to a vote in November.
“We have 15 proposals that the Board of [State] Canvassers has certified the format of the petition and the description on the petition. Of those, four of them are an effort to do an end-run around the governor,” Lupher said. “It is pure politics and gaming a system that’s not meant to work that way. The design allows it, but it’s not meant to work that way.”
Simon Schuster, executive director of the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network, said many ballot proposals may not live up to the perception that voters have of them.
“I think that we have a conceptualization in our mind that voters are sort of the driver of direct democracy. These are grassroots efforts that are where the people can legislate rather than the legislators themselves. But when you look at the funding of these initiatives, and the amount of dark money, and out of state money, that goes into funding these efforts, it becomes pretty obvious pretty quickly that it’s really the opposite of the case,” Schuster said.
“Because at the end of the day, for a lot of these most prominent ballot issues, we don’t know who the primary financial supporters are. I think that’s a question that every Michigan voter should ask themselves as they try to determine whether or not they’re in favor of proposals being pushed.”
Under Michigan law, petition circulators are currently not prohibited from lying to get people their petitions, although there have been unsuccessful legislative attempts to stop that.
It falls to each voter, then, to be informed about what they are signing on for, Lupher said.
“We’ve had controversy in Michigan, a number of times, where people alleged that they were lied to to get their signature on the ballot. In a case that made it to the Michigan Supreme Court, the justices said, ‘Look, you’re choosing to participate in democracy, and it’s incumbent upon you, the person signing this, to know what you’re signing. There’s no backsies, and it’s tantamount to signing a contract,’” Lupher said.
“If you’re not sure, back off and go back or pull out your phone and Google it, and get some loose paper descriptions or learn about it before you put your name to it. You don’t get to take your name back off of it. They don’t care that you were lied to. It’s on you to know what you’re signing.”
Petitions can be created to amend the state Constitution, create a new law, or repeal an existing law through referendum.
Each type of petition has a different set of requirements to meet, including the number of signatures required — each a percentage of the vote in the last gubernatorial election — and the deadline by which to file signatures:
- Amendments to the state Constitution have until July 11 to collect 425,059 valid signatures, accounting for 10% of the vote in the last gubernatorial election.
- Petitions to create a new law must submit at least 340,047 valid signatures, 8% of the vote in the last gubernatorial election, by June 1.
- The window to repeal a law through referendum closes 90 days after the law is first enacted and would require at least 212,530 valid signatures, totaling 5% of the vote in the last gubernatorial election.
Constitutional amendments go straight to the November ballot, unlike the initiatives that can be adopted by the Legislature.
These are all of the petitions currently being circulated in Michigan:
Unlock Michigan II (initiative petition)
The proposal would limit emergency orders issued by the state health department or local health officials to 28 days, unless extended by the state Legislature or local governments.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration relied on Michigan Department of Health and Human Services orders to enact COVID-19 safety measures after the Michigan Supreme Court overturned the 1945 law she had originally relied on to issue executive orders, which was later repealed by the Legislature through another initiative petition.
Let MI Kids Learn (initiative petition)
The group has introduced two petitions, both backed by Betsy DeVos, former U.S. Education secretary under former President Trump.
One would create the Student Opportunity Scholarship program to pay for K-12 public or private school tuition and fees, homeschooling materials and online learning programs for students who have financial need.
The second would allow contributions to that scholarship program to be tax deductible.
Secure MI Vote (initiative petition)
The proposal would require voter ID for in-person voting and absentee ballot applications, eliminating an affidavit option that is currently allowed for in-person voting without ID.
Voters with hardships would be provided free IDs using a $3 million state fund under the proposal.
It would also require partial Social Security numbers for voter registration, prohibit unsolicited absentee ballot applications, ban outside funding for elections, and require voters who didn’t present their ID in person to present it within six days after the election for their vote to be counted.
MI Right to Vote (constitutional amendment)
The group has proposed two amendments to the state Constitution.
One would strip the Legislature of its power to adopt statutes initiated through ballot petitions.
The other would:
- Require two weekends of in-person absentee voting
- Require at least one drop-off box for absentee ballots for every 15,000 registered voters
- Require postage of absentee ballot applications be fully paid
- Allow voters to receive absentee-ballot applications without requesting them
- Prohibit requiring voter ID for absentee voting or Social Security numbers to register to vote
- Prohibit legislators from imposing “an undue burden on the right to vote,” including laws that restrict contributions to fund elections, record voters or discriminate “against election challengers”
- Require the Legislature to fund elections
Promote the Vote 2022 (constitutional amendment)
The proposal would amend the state Constitution to allow nine days of early voting, continue to allow voters to sign an affidavit attesting to their identity rather than being required to present a voter ID, require ballot drop-off boxes for every 15,000 voters, require that post-election audits only be conducted by the state and local officials, and allow voters to register for absentee ballots for all future elections.
Voters for Transparency and Term Limits (constitutional amendment)
The constitutional amendment would reduce the total amount of time an individual could serve in the Legislature from 14 years to 12 years, but would allow them to serve the entire time in a single chamber.
Under current law, legislators are limited to six years, or three terms, in the House and eight years, or two terms, in the Senate.
The proposal also would require legislators, the governor, attorney general, and secretary of state to disclose financial information, including all forms of income, arrangements for future employment, purchases or sales of property, and more.
Raise the Wage MI (initiative petition)
Michigan’s minimum wage would increase to $15 an hour over five years, beginning at $11 an hour in 2023.
Michigan’s minimum wage is currently $9.87 per hour.
Similar legislation was proposed in 2018, but was adopted by the GOP-led Legislature before the election, keeping it off the ballot. Then the Legislature amended during the lame duck session to reduce the size and rate of the increase.
Reproductive Freedom for All (constitutional amendment)
Reproductive freedom would become a right under the proposed amendment to the state Constitution.
Michigan currently has a 1931 law banning abortions on the books that would go back into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Roe v. Wade decision.
Audit MI (initiative petition)
A “forensic audit” of the 2020 election would be conducted under the proposed initiative.
Post-election audits would also no longer be conducted by the secretary of state or local election officials under the statute; instead, it would create an “audit board” of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats selected by the Legislature.
The board would be allowed to raise public and private funds and would not be required to disclose their private donors.
A grand jury would also be established that could investigate findings.
Michiganders for Fair Lending (initiative petition)
Interest rates on payday loans would be capped at 36% under the proposed statute.
Michigan’s attorney general would be allowed to prosecute lenders who exceed that rate.
Michigan United (initiative petition)
Truth in sentencing laws requiring those convicted of crimes to serve their entire minimum sentences would be repealed under the ballot proposal.
Credits reducing sentences for those who earn degrees or work in prison would be established.
Michigan Initiative for Community Healing (initiative petition)
Psychedelic mushrooms would be decriminalized under the proposal.
Additionally, the maximum penalty for possessing non-prescribed drugs would be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.
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