Michigan election bureau recommends denial of anti-abortion ballot petition

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The state Bureau of Elections has recommended canvassers deny a ballot petition that would ban dilation and evacuation abortions, an abortion procedure commonly used in the second trimester of pregnancy.

The "dismemberment" abortion ban petition submitted to the state in December by a Right to Life of Michigan ballot committee falls short of the state-required signature threshold of 340,047 based on a 500-signature sample of the signatures gathered, according to a report from the bureau. 

The state Bureau of Elections has recommended canvassers deny a ballot petition that would ban dilation and evacuation abortions.

The Board of State Canvassers is scheduled to meet Thursday to consider the report and recommendation for denial.

Right to Life of Michigan had intended to the have the GOP-led Legislature enact the initiative into law if certified, which would allow Right to Life and supportive lawmakers to bypass the November ballot box and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s promised veto. 

Right to Life of Michigan plans to argue Thursday that the board should accept several of the signatures as valid despite the bureau's recommendation. 

"We are going to make our case to the board of canvassers on Thursday that several of signatures should be accepted," said Genevieve Marnon, the group’s legislative director. "We are just three signatures shy of a redraw.”

The Committee to Protect Access to Care, a committee formed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, found the same deficiencies the anti-abortion petition, said Angela Vazquez Giroux, a spokeswoman for the group. 

"Our review suggests the total number of invalid signatures on duplicates alone could be much higher than what the sample indicates; Right to Life’s desperate attempts to rehabilitate signatures suggests they know we’re right," Vazquez-Giroux said.

According to its report, Bureau of Elections staff pulled a 500-signature sample from the 380,070 signatures submitted by Michigan Values Life petition. Of those 500, 22 signatures were determined invalid due to voter registration status, 20 were duplicates, eight included an incorrect hometown, two had signature errors and two had date errors, the bureau report said.

As a rule, the bureau recommends samples with more 465 or more valid signatures receive certification, between 449 and 464 to require further sampling and those with fewer than 448 be denied.

Based on those qualifiers, the bureau recommended the four member board deny certification for the November ballot and estimate with — 93% certainty — that the total signature count fell short about 7,276 signatures.

The Board of State Canvassers is made up of two Republicans and one Democrat. A deadlocked vote on the petition would mean no action is taken. 

"If that situation arises then the sponsor can sue," said Tracy Wimmer, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's office.

The bureau's report comes roughly a week and a half after Planned Parenthood Advocates challenged the signatures, alleging the petition has dozens of duplicate, misdated and unregistered signatures.

It marked the first time anyone has challenged a petition initiative led by Right to Life, which has successfully gathered requisite signatures in four other petition drives in 1987, 1990, 2004 and 2013.

The Coalition to Protect Access to Care maintains roughly 65 signatures are defective from the group of 500 for a total of about 435. Five signatures are misdated, more than 20 are not registered voters and another 21 signatures, or 4.2%, are duplicates, according to the complaint.

Bureau of Elections staff rejected 20 of the challenges raised by the Planned Parenthood committee, overlapped with 24 of the challenges and accepted 22 other challenges.