Advance Notice: Briefs

LGBTQ rights group files lawsuit over ballot proposal problems

By: - May 27, 2020 12:18 pm

Susan J. Demas

After moving to an online strategy to collect signatures during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders of an LGBTQ rights ballot proposal said this week they can’t amass enough to qualify for the November ballot — and they are suing the state.

The Fair and Equal Michigan campaign sought to ban discrimination against LGBTQ people in Michigan. It collected roughly 180,000 signatures, shy of the 340,047 required by Wednesday’s deadline.

Attorney Steve Liedel of Dykema Gossett PLLC said the pandemic made exercising the right granted to people in the Constitution to propose and to enact laws “insurmountable.” He said the suit filed Tuesday in the Michigan Court of Claims asks for recognition of the “severe burden on the exercise of fundamental constitutional rights imposed by COVID-19.”

The campaign is seeking injunctive relief to reduce the signature requirement to 127,518 registered voters. The campaign arrived at that number is because it only could canvass 45 of the 120 days allowed, or 37.5% of the allotted time given by state law for citizen petitions to collect valid signatures. Fair and Equal Michigan would exceed that threshold.

The suit also asks the court to extend the deadline for submitting signatures from Wednesday until to July 13.

“Even, and especially, at time of great difficulty, such as our current public health crisis, our precious Constitutional rights must be upheld. And so our stand will continue: Every Michigander deserves an equal chance at success, without threat of being fired, harassed, or demoted simply for who they are or who they love,” said Fair and Equal Michigan Co-Chair and President Trevor Thomas.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Elections Director Jonathan Brater and the Board of State Canvassers are named as defendants. State Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit) and Rep. Mary Manoogian (D-Birmingham) have joined in the suit arguing they have been denied their right to vote on the ballot initiative.

This wasn’t the only ballot question committee stunted by complications due to the coronavirus. Campaigns for a graduated income tax and to stop lobbyist influence in state government both folded, as the Advance previously reported.

The LGBTQ rights campaign began in January and included the backing of several state leaders and big businesses.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 22-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ+ people, the state budget, the economy and more. She previously served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 90 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 5,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 80 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two kids along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.