Promote the Vote sues to make Michigan ballot

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News


Rev. Wendell Anthony of the Detroit NAACP speaks at a Promote the Vote event in Lansing.

Lansing — A group seeking to expand voting and registration options in Michigan is asking a federal judge to force state certification before next week’s deadline to send proposals to the November ballot.

Promote the Vote submitted petitions to the state July 9, but the Bureau of Elections determined there were not enough valid signatures in an initial review sample to trigger automatic recommendation for approval.

The bureau announced earlier this month it would review a larger sample of 3,300 signatures before recommending approval or denial to the Board of State Canvassers, a process the state expects to complete by Friday.

The federal lawsuit alleges the initial state review was “standardless and subjective.” With a Sept. 7 deadline looming, the complaint suggests the ballot group will not have enough time to investigate, respond to or correct to any signatures that may be erroneously tossed in the expanded review.

“More than 400,000 citizens signed petitions to put the Promote the Vote proposal on the ballot,” said attorneys for the committee and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which is helping finance the effort.

“Their First Amendment right to associate for the purpose of initiating amendments to their constitution, and their constitutional right to vote, are threatened by the standardless and subjective canvass of PTV’s petition, and their right to due process in the counting of their signatures has been violated.”

Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit because the department had not yet been served the complaint. But he said the state was “surprised that this lawsuit was filed given how the Bureau of Elections has used the same process for reviewing petition signatures for decades.”

The legal action “will only delay work completing the larger sample and issuing a staff report, which is expected Friday,” Woodhams added.

The Promote the Vote initiative would allow no-reason absentee voting by mail, guarantee continued straight-party voting and let residents register to vote up to and on Election Day.

The proposed amendment to the state Constitution is backed the ACLU, the League of Women Voters of Michigan, the Detroit chapter of the NAACP and the Michigan League for Public Policy.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan contends the Bureau of Elections should have recommended approval after reviewing an initial sample of 500 signatures.

While the bureau told the group there were 380 valid signatures, short of the 390 needed to trigger a recommendation, the ballot committee said it obtained affidavits from 13 voters proving the validity of rejected signatures.

The suit was filed on behalf of the ballot committee and three supporters who would be unable to vote on the measure if it is kept off the ballot due to what attorneys called an “arbitrary and imprecise” signature matching technique and the opportunity for voters to contest the rejection of their own signatures.

The state announced the expanded petition review Aug. 14 and allowed outside groups to challenge signatures on the public sample through Tuesday. Eric Doster, a longtime Republican attorney now representing an opposition group called Protect My Vote, filed the lone challenge, questioning the validity of 777 out of roughly 3,300 signatures in the second sample.

The Board of State Canvassers is set to meet next week Thursday and Friday, which is the deadline for sending measures to the November ballot. Canvassers could consider certification of the Promote the Vote petitions on either of those dates.

The Bureau of Elections this year also gave extra scrutiny to petition signatures from a conservative group that led the successful charge to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law for construction workers, Woodhams noted.

 “All petitions are treated equally,” he said.

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