Bureau: Marijuana signatures ‘insufficient’ for ballot

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — A group seeking to legalize marijuana in Michigan submitted an “insufficient” number of valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot after collecting outside of a traditional 180-day window, state elections officials said Tuesday.

In a staff report, the Bureau of Elections recommended the Board of State Canvassers reject the MI Legalize petition at its Thursday meeting.

The activist-led group last week submitted an estimated 354,000 signatures, more than the 252,523 required to make the ballot, but the bureau said only 146,413 were collected within 180 days of the filing. State law, updated Tuesday to tighten that window, had treated older signatures as “stale and void.”

Reviewing petition signatures can often take the bureau at least 60 days, but Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said the identification of old signatures sped up the process, which would have otherwise involved testing a sample for validity.

The speedy review could actually benefit MI Legalize, according to executive director Jeff Hank, who said the group plans to sue the state for ballot access. He argues the 180-day signature window is unconstitutional and that the current policy for rehabilitating older signatures makes the task impossible.

“The only way we’re probably going to rectify this is through litigation, and the fact that the Bureau has made this decision in a timely fashion gives us enough time to litigate,” Hank said. “We’re going to fight for the rights of every Michigan voter and make sure we get this on the ballot.”

Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday signed a new law solidifying the 180-day collection window on petition drives for initiated legislation or constitutional amendments, eliminating the option for petition groups to attempt rehabilitation of older signatures.

“Establishing reasonable time limits on when signatures can be collected helps ensure the issues that make the ballot are the ones that matter most to Michiganders,” Snyder said in a statement.

State law had allowed committees to prove the validity of older signatures by verifying residents were registered to vote when they signed. A 1986 policy adopted by the Board of State Canvassers laid out a laborious process for doing so — collecting affidavits from each signer or local election clerk — that was never successfully completed.

MI Legalize had asked election officials to update the policy by allowing it to verify registration status using the state’s Qualified Voter File database, a proposition the Board of Canvassers considered but did not approve.

In submitting petitions, Hank argued that voter registration records themselves satisfy the requirement for rehabilitating older signatures, saying voter registration forms constitute affidavits and acceptance by local clerks constitutes certification.

The MI Legalize filing included an affidavit from Alan Fox of Practical Political Consulting, who worked with the group to verify signatures, purporting that to “rebut” the presumption that the old signatures were stale and void.

“While there are issues with the accuracy of this interpretation, there is no need to consider Mr. Hank’s proposition because the affidavit of Alan Fox fails to prove that any of the rebutted petition signatures were affixed by signers who were registered to vote at the time of signing,” said the Bureau of Elections staff report.

A separate ballot committee seeking to ban hydraulic fracturing announced last week that it was suing the state, arguing the 180-day signature window violates the Michigan Constitution.

joosting@detroitnews.com

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