Voting rights measure should be on Nov. ballot, Michigan Supreme Court rules

By: - September 8, 2022 4:42 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

After a week of uncertainty for the fate of two major ballot measures, the Michigan Supreme Court on Thursday evening ruled that a constitutional amendment expanding voting rights will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot for Michiganders to decide.

Promote the Vote 2022 (PTV) had gathered more than 664,000 signatures in July — over 200,000 more signatures than needed to qualify for the ballot — before the Board of State Canvassers considered the measure last month. The Bureau of Elections recommended that it be placed on the ballot.

But two of the politically split board’s four members — Republicans Richard Houskamp and Tony Daunt — voted against placing it on the ballot after considering an opposing group’s challenge to the amendment.

In practice, a deadlock among the small panel equates to a rejection.

PTV then sued the board in the Michigan Supreme Court in the hopes of forcing the measure on the ballot. The 197-page filing argued in part that Houskamp and Daunt had “abdicated their oaths to follow the law” and “went beyond their statutory duties” by dissenting.

Five of Michigan’s Supreme Court justices agreed with PTV — four nominated by Democrats and one nominated by the GOP. Justices Brian Zahra and David Viviano, both nominated by Republicans, dissented.

“Absent an insufficient number of signatures or a petition form that doesn’t comply with unambiguous statutory requirements, the Board lacks the authority to refuse to certify a petition. Because the challenger here alleged neither of those defects, the Board had a duty to certify the petition,” Chief Justice Bridget McCormack wrote, emphasizing the limited nature of the board’s role in certifying petitions.

“The Board’s failure to do so seems to be disappointing evidence of the weakened state of our polity.”

The ruling means that the board must certify the ballot proposal before the Secretary of State’s deadline at 5 p.m. Friday. Voters will then have the opportunity to either approve or reject it on Nov. 8. 

Michigan Supreme Court | Susan J. Demas

“We applaud the Michigan Supreme Court for seeing through the baseless and ridiculous claims of our opposition and holding that the voters of Michigan should have the opportunity to make their voices heard on this important issue,” said Khalilah Spencer, board president for Promote the Vote 2022.

“This important ballot initiative will help ensure that every Michigan voter’s voice is heard and that every vote is counted in every election, no matter where you live, what you look like or what political party or candidate you support. Now that we are on the ballot, we look forward to the next phase of the campaign where we will be encouraging Michigan voters to vote yes on Proposal 2.”

PTV would amend the state constitution to allow nine days of early voting, allow voters to register absentee for all future elections, require more ballot drop boxes and more.

The PTV coalition includes groups including Voters Not Politicians and the ACLU of Michigan. 

The challenging group, Defend Your Vote, had claimed that the ballot proposal does not clearly spell out what changes it would make to the Michigan Constitution, among other complaints.

If approved by Michiganders, the PTV amendment would take effect 45 days after Election Day and be in effect for the 2024 general election. 

As it’s a constitutional amendment, the PTV measure would supersede a different ballot proposal restricting voting rights supported by Republicans, Secure MI Vote, that missed the deadline to get on the 2022 ballot. 

That measure, which follows the nationwide pattern of Republicans trying to clamp down on voting rights following former President Donald Trump’s loss to President Joe Biden in 2020, would first go to the Legislature for approval. If the House and Senate, which are currently by Republicans, OK’d the Secure MI Vote proposal, it would not go to voters and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer cannot veto it.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).

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