Advance Notice: Briefs

State elections bureau greenlights signatures for initiative yanking Whitmer’s powers

By: - April 19, 2021 4:56 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

The state Bureau of Elections has determined that the conservative Unlock Michigan petition initiative to take away Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency powers has enough valid signatures to be certified by the Board of State Canvassers at its meeting scheduled Thursday.  

Unlock Michigan spokesman Fred Wszolek tweeted on Monday that the issue was not “even a close call.”

“The MI Bureau of Elections recommends that the #UnlockMichigan petition be certified. With over 460,000 VALID signatures, it’s not even a close call. Key, [sic] @GovWhitmer maybe now you’ll try working WITH the legislature, instead of governing by decree?”

The Whitmer administration has not issued new pandemic restrictions during the latest wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Michigan has almost 800,000 cases and 17,000 deaths as of Monday.

The Board of Canvassers is a four-member panel composed of two Democrats and two Republicans that certifies Michigan elections. The members are nominated by political parties and appointed by the governor.

The Unlock Michigan coalition turned in signatures in 2020 to overturn the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945, a law that Whitmer was previously relying on to issue executive orders during the pandemic. The Michigan Supreme Court overturned the law in October and the Department of Health and Human Services has since been issuing epidemic orders.

Wszolek told the Michigan Advance that he expects that the issue will “be in the hands of the Legislature if the Board of Canvassers will do its duty.” If the State Board of Canvassers approves the bureau’s decision, the measure would go to the GOP-led state Legislature. The House and Senate are expected to adopt and enact the repeal of the 1945 Act instead of sending it to voters for approval. Under Michigan law, Whitmer cannot veto the measure.

Joe Schwarz, a spokesman for Keep MI Safe, an organization that has sought to block the Unlock Michigan effort, seemed to accept the decision.   

“It’s a petition drive and if a petition drive gets the requisite number of signatures, then it goes on the ballot,” said Schwarz, a Republican former state senator and U.S. House member. “That’s all there is to that. It’s not a complex conclusion to reach.”

Keep MI Safe had conducted its own review of the signatures and found “numerous defective signatures, duplicates and errors by circulators.” The group has filed a lawsuit.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.