Independent AG candidate qualifies for November ballot

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Christopher Graveline

Delta Township — An independent candidate for attorney general has qualified for the November ballot.

The Board of State Canvassers ruled Friday that former federal prosecutor Chris Graveline had at least 5,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The canvassers’ decision came a day after a U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel in a 2-1 opinion upheld a federal judge’s order to qualify Graveline for the ballot if he had 5,000 qualified signatures, rather than the 30,000 usually required for an independent candidate. 

U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts said the signature requirement combined with the short time frame in which candidates could collect those signatures constituted an undue burden. 

Canvassers complained about Roberts’ ruling Friday, questioning her jurisdiction over state statute. Canvasser Julie Matuzak said the ruling was “ridiculous.”

"If we deny this, what is the federal judge going to do?" Board of State Canvassers Chairman Norman Shinkle said during the meeting. Graveline's petition was approved 3-0, with Shinkle abstaining. 

After the meeting Friday, Graveline questioned whether canvassers read the opinions or understood the “sound reasoning” from the judges. He said canvassers' concerns about the ramifications of the federal decision on other major races were unfounded.

“What we were challenging was the Michigan electoral scheme as it applies to independents, not the entire electoral scheme for major parties or minor parties even,” Graveline said. “The court’s current order applies to me and that’s it."

Graveline said he plans to campaign statewide to offer voters another option for an office he believes has become too partisan.

Graveline filed a lawsuit against state election officials in July after they failed to accept his qualifying petition for attorney general on July 19 because he had collected 14,157 of the 30,000 signatures required of no-party contenders. Graveline argued the requirement “is one of the highest in the country and functions as an absolute bar that excludes independent candidates from competing for statewide office.”

“The numerical signature requirement here, in combination with the signature collection window and filing deadline, is a severe burden on independent candidates and those who wish to vote for them,” Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote in the majority opinion.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Richard Allen Griffin said Roberts abused her discretion “in arbitrarily rewriting Michigan’s reasonable election laws” and said the majority decision supporting Roberts’ decision “has forever tainted the election.”

The state will continue to fight Graveline’s lawsuit and the precedent Roberts’ order sets, but Graveline’s place on the ballot is secure regardless of what happens in court, said Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams.

Graveline will join four other candidates for attorney general on the November ballot: Republican Tom Leonard, Democrat Dana Nessel, Libertarian Lisa Lane Gioia and U.S. Taxpayers candidate Gerald T. Van Sickle.

People speculating on which candidate would lose votes to Graveline have pointed to the possibility of shifting allegiances among Democratic voters because of former Detroit U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade's initial endorsement of Graveline. 

Graveline said he has not spoken to McQuade regarding an endorsement since she shifted her support to Nessel when it appeared Graveline would not make the ballot. 

Canvassers also designated a ballot initiative that would expand voting rights in Michigan as Proposal 3 and approved the proposal's 100-word summary despite complaints from the ballot initiative's sponsors. 

Canvassers and lawyers for Promote the Vote debated which details of the proposal should be included in the summary, including references to required audits, details of voter registration changes and the proposal's status as a constitutional amendment.

While changes were made to accommodate some of the concerns, the ballot committee was disappointed with the final result, said Promote the Vote campaign director Todd Cook. The group will consult with its counsel before deciding what if any legal action to take over the wording. 

The voting rights proposal will join two others: Proposal 1 would legalize recreational marijuana and Proposal 2 would implement an independent citizens’ redistricting commission.

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