Column: Republican canvassers say no to democracy by rejecting abortion and voting rights proposals

September 4, 2022 3:01 am

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

At its Wednesday meeting, the Board of State Canvassers twice deadlocked on partisan 2-2 votes, thereby refusing to place either the Reproductive Freedom For All (RFFA) or Promote The Vote (PTV) proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 8 ballot. This is just the latest example of a Michigan Republican Party that no longer supports democracy.

The two Republican members of the board, Anthony Daunt and Richard Houskamp, do not appear to be election deniers. Their votes suggest that it is not just former President Donald Trump cultists who are trying to destroy democracy in Michigan, but essentially the entire state Republican Party establishment.

The RFFA petition to enshrine abortion rights in the Michigan constitution submitted 753,000 signatures, the largest number of signatures ever collected in a statewide petition drive. The Promote The Vote petition to expand voting rights in the constitution was signed by 664,000 Michiganders. The Bureau of Elections reviewed the signatures and determined that the two petitions had 596,000 and 507,000 valid signatures, respectively, well over the threshold of 425,000 signatures to gain access to the November ballot.

In the last two weeks, minor legal objections were raised with both petitions. Opponents of the RFFA petition pointed out that there are a few lines where there is not the usual spacing between words. The words are easily understandable, and the meaning of the petition is very clear (not a single anti-abortion activist testifying demonstrated any confusion about the impact of the language). Lawyers argued that the PTV petition fails to include all the constitutional provisions that would be abrogated by the proposed amendments, a contention that was vehemently denied by PTV attorneys.

There were two clear conclusions from the Board of State Canvassers debates.

One, the disputes involve nuanced legal questions. Are the missing spaces in RFFA, even when the wording is easily readable, grounds for blocking ballot access? Does the PTV petition in fact fail to list certain changes in the constitution (the silliest example was that the changes would somehow end the concept of Election Day, even though Michigan has allowed absentee voting for many years). The lawyers for the two sides disagreed.

About 500 people attended the Ann Arbor rally | Ken Coleman

Two, the Board of State Canvassers has no authority to resolve complex legal issues. This was clearly stated by the Bureau of Elections staff and seemingly accepted by the board members, only one of whom is an attorney.

Having to make a yes or no decision in the face of likely litigation either way, the Board of State Canvassers had to decide to whom to give the “benefit of the doubt.”

The two Democratic members voted to give the benefit of the doubt to the more than 500,000 Michiganders apiece who signed the petitions, and to the millions of Michiganders who would then be able to vote up or down in November. This pro-democracy decision entails zero risk since Michigan citizens could simply decide to vote either or both proposals down on Nov. 8.

Instead, the two Republicans voted to give the benefit of the doubt to the speculative legal challenges, which robs more than 500,000 Michiganders apiece of their constitutional right to petition and denies millions of Michiganders the opportunity to vote on the initiatives.

Daunt and Houskamp put their party over democracy, unlike GOP former member Aaron Van Langevelde, who had the courage to vote to certify the 2020 presidential election in Michigan, even though he knew that his fellow Republicans would likely replace him on the Board of State Canvassers with someone less courageous who would toe the party line.

These shameful decisions are just one more illustration that we now have a Republican Party whose DNA is unabashedly anti-democracy, leaving only one major party that is pro-democracy. 

Michigan is a battleground in the battle for democracy in America, and we all must vote in November to defend it.

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Jeff Alson
Jeff Alson

Jeff Alson is a retired engineer from Scio Township who has had columns published in outlets including The Hill and Bridge Michigan.