The sweeping voting rights proposal to make changes to Michigan’s elections – including establishing early voting in the state – failed to land a spot on the ballot this fall after the state’s elections panel deadlocked Wednesday on whether to certify the Promote the Vote amendment for the ballot.
Organizers collected enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, according to the state’s Bureau of Elections. But canvassers debated how to handle a challenge to the proposal alleging that the petition form circulated by organizers failed to note which sections of the Michigan Constitution would be impacted if the proposal was placed on the ballot and adopted by voters.
The Board of State Canvassers reached an impasse on a motion to adopt the recommendation handed down from the Bureau of Elections to certify the Promote the Vote proposal.
The two Republican members of the Board of State Canvassers – Tony Daunt and Richard Houskamp – voted against placing Promote the Vote on this fall’s ballot while the two Democratic members – Mary Ellen Gurewitz and Jeannette Bradshaw – voted in favor of putting it on the ballot. The vote leaves the Promote the Vote proposal off the ballot for now. Vote immediately vowed to go to court and expressed confidence that the proposal will ultimately secure a spot on the ballot.
Ahead of the meeting, the elections bureau declined to issue a recommendation on a challenge to the Promote the Vote amendment by the alleged that the petition circulated to list every section of the state constitution it would abrogate. The bureau’s report that the challenge “raises legal arguments stated to the meaning of the Michigan Constitution as interpreted by the Michigan Supreme Court; staff makes no recommendation as to the merits of the legal arguments raised.”
State canvassers heard from attorneys for Defend Your Vote – the group that filed the challenge – and Promote the Vote.
Jonathan Koch, an attorney for Defend Your Vote, argued that the canvassers could not certify the proposal for the ballot if the petition form was insufficient.
Canvassers inquired whether they had the authority at this point in the process to hear the challenge since they already approved the Promote the Petition form and whether they could even hear the challenge because it raised legal questions about how the amendment would interact with parts of the Michigan Constitution if adopted by voters.
“Now is not the time to go back and revisit what was already done,” Christopher Trebilcock, an attorney for Promote the Vote told canvassers. He disputed challengers’ allegations that the proposed constitutional amendment would render several provisions currently in the Michigan Constitution inoperable. “Let the people vote on this proposal,” he said, pounding his fist on the table.
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During an extensive debate among canvassers, Bradshaw noted that the board already approved the petition form for Promote the Vote before it was circulated, noting that concerns about potentially missing constitutional provisions the proposed amendment would impact not raised then.
Daunt said that just because an issue was raised later in the process doesn’t mean canvassers should dismiss it. “Though frustrating, we should strive to get it right,” he said, calling it “a detriment to the voters of this state” if they are presented with a proposal that’s unclear.
Gurewitz said that the board was primarily charged at this point in the process with determining whether organizers collected enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. “And, on that question, I think we know the answer.”
Promote the Vote and Reproductive Freedom for All – which drafted the abortion rights amendment also being considered by the Board of State Canvassers on Wednesday – needed to collect just over 425,000 valid voter signatures each. Promote the Vote turned in more than half a million.
Michigan voters in 2018 approved a constitutional amendment proposed by Promote the Vote to allow every voter in the state to cast an absentee ballot for any reason and allow eligible residents to register to vote on Election Day. Among the proposed changes, this year’s amendment proposal from the group seeks to expand on that earlier by increasing absentee ballot access and preempting GOP-led efforts in the wake of the 2020 presidential election to enact a strict voter ID rule for those casting ballots in person and a brand new one for absentee voters.
The Secretary of State must certify the contents of the ballot for county clerks by 5 pm on Sept. 9. Clerks must begin sending ballots to military and overseas voters by Sept. 24 and to voters who have requested absentee ballots by Sept. 29.
Clara Hendrickson fact-checks Michigan issues and politics as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA. Contact her at email@example.com or 313-296-5743. Follow her on Twitter @clarajanehen.