Board deadlocks on putting voting rights proposal on Michigan ballot, court action likely 

By: - August 31, 2022 1:55 pm

The Promote the Vote 2022 coalition announces during a Lansing press conference that it has filed nearly 670,000 signatures, July 11, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Updated, 3:19 p.m., 8/31/22 with additional Board action

The Board of State Canvassers deadlocked on party lines on a vote Wednesday on whether a ballot initiative to expand voting rights will get in front of voters in November. The matter is now expected to be resolved in court.

Promote the Vote, which aims to amend the state Constitution to allow nine days of early voting, allow voters to register to cast absentee ballots for all future elections, require more ballot drop boxes and more, submitted more than the required number of signatures. But the ballot initiative was challenged by opponents, Defend Your Vote, who argue the proposal lacks which sections of the Michigan Constitution would be impacted if the proposal were to be adopted. 

Last week, the Bureau of Elections recommended that the board certify the PTV signatures, but did not provide guidance on the challenge. 

Board Vice-Chair Mary Ellen Gurewitz, a Democrat, called the arguments made by Defend Your Vote attorney Jonathan Koch “creative.”

“Mr. Koch was desperately trying to find something where he could argue that the proposal abrogated provisions,” Gurewitz said. “If I were called upon to say whether the alter and abrogation argument is valid, I would say it’s not. But I don’t think that’s for us. I think what we’re supposed to be doing is saying are there a sufficient number of signatures? And on that question, I think we know the answer.”

Promote the Vote 2022, a coalition that includes Voters Not Politicians, the ACLU of Michigan and more, submitted more than 664,000 signatures. That’s more than 200,000 than is needed for a constitutional amendment to get on the ballot.

“Secure MI Vote” booth at a right-wing rally at the state Capitol, Feb. 8, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Republicans in the Legislature have proposed a slew of voting restrictions since the 2020 election former President Donald Trump lost to President Joe Biden. With Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoing several bills, Republicans have turned to their own ballot proposal, Secure MI Vote, but did not turn in signatures in time to get on the November ballot. If there are enough signatures, the Legislature could still adopt the measure before voters have a say and Whitmer cannot veto it.

Board members split on the decision to certify the Promote the Vote proposal, with Gurewitz and fellow Democrat Jeanette Bradshaw voting to put the question on the ballot and the two Republicans, Richard Houskamp and Tony Daunt, voting against.

Promote the Vote is likely to bring this matter to the Supreme Court, but there isn’t much time before the Secretary of State’s deadline to certify general election ballots for county clerks at 5 p.m. Sept. 9.

In an impassioned response to the challenge, Christopher Trebilcock, an attorney for Promote the Vote, called on the board to “let the people vote on this proposal.”

“We are extremely disappointed by the Board of State Canvassers’ deadlock. This is a disservice to the people of Michigan and is indicative of the obstructionist partisan politics that have taken over truly non-partisan issues like election reform and equal access to the ballot,” said Khalilah Spencer, board president for Promote the Vote 2022. “Sadly, despite the clear facts and the independent validation of our proposal by the Bureau of Elections, these two Board of State Canvassers’ members are standing in the way of Michigan voters having their say on this important proposal. Nonetheless, we are confident that the courts will remedy this needless and unjustified attempt to block our proposal.”

After the Board voted on the proposal and a short recess for lunch, Director of Elections Jonathan Brater said “there is no doubt a lawsuit is being drafted currently … regarding what the Board just did.”

The Board unanimously approved to change the summary of the PTV ballot proposal, saying that a “simple” definition of the amendment is better.

Brater said that neither he nor the Board has an obligation to “use the exact same language” that was presented on the petition sheets.

Promote the Vote requested that the summary language proposed by Brater be amended and simplified in case the Supreme Court rules in favor of the proposal getting on the ballot.

The board’s meeting began at 9 a.m. and the body also is considering the Reproductive Freedom for All constitutional amendment.


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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered 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.