3 delayed ballot initiatives poised to advance

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Ballot proposals challenging state laws governing marijuana, redistricting and the prevailing wage are poised to advance before the month is over.

The petitions for the initiatives have been under review for months, after their submissions in November and December created a bottleneck at the state agency tasked with reviewing signatures.

The Michigan Bureau of Elections is expected to submit a staff report to the Board of State Canvassers within the next few weeks regarding proposals that would legalize recreational marijuana and repeal the law requiring union wages and benefits for construction workers, said Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams.

The Board of State Canvassers may vote before May on whether to place the marijuana and prevailing wage initiatives on the November ballot.

A ballot proposal that would create a citizens’ redistricting commission to redraw political boundaries is further behind in the approval process.

“In the next week or so or more, a sample of the signatures will be released publicly and then there will be a two-week challenge period to those signatures,” Woodhams said.

Opposition challenges and sampling issues surrounding the prevailing wage petition have slowed approvals for all three ballot initiatives. But Woodhams said he is confident a decision on the proposals could be reached with time to spare.

“It’s quite a few months ahead of the November election,” he said.

After handwriting issues raised questions about the validity of some signatures on the prevailing wage petition, the Bureau of Elections selected a larger sample size, prolonging the approval process. The state also has had to take into account objections by opposition group Protect Michigan Jobs.

In a February objection filed by Protect Michigan Jobs, lawyer John Pirich argued the state should not approve the ballot measure because the submitted signatures are “lower than the threshold required for certification.”

Jeff Wiggins, president of Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, said concerns over “sloppy handwriting” in the initial sample pulled by the State Bureau of Elections won’t stall the initiative, which would eliminate the law essentially requiring contractors to pay union wages and benefits for projects financed or sponsored by the state. Wiggins said he’s confident the results of a larger sample size of roughly 4,400 signatures will meet state requirements.

If the Board of State Canvassers approves the signatures, the proposal would proceed to the state Legislature where Republic majorities could repeal the wage law instead of leaving the issue to voters in November. Gov. Rick Snyder, who wants to keep the prevailing wage on the books, couldn’t veto the legislative votes.

“We have every confidence in the world that the votes are there in the legislature,” Wiggins said.

The petitions for legalized marijuana and the repeal of prevailing wage laws require roughly 252,000 signatures. The redistricting proposal by Voters Not Politicians, which would amend the state Constitution, requires 315,000 signatures.

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol wants a ballot proposal that would allow personal possession and use of marijuana by people over 21. The proposal also would control the distribution and commercial production of recreational marijuana.

Spokesman Josh Hovey said the group has spent the past few months raising money and preparing for its “Vote Yes” campaign. The coalition had spent nearly $1 million by late February.

“We know we’ll need to raise a lot more than that just to make sure we counteract some of the myths that are out there and some of the scare tactics,” Hovey said.

Voters Not Politicians want an amendment to the state Constitution that would allow for an independent “citizens redistricting commission” to redraw district lines. The proposal would require the secretary of state to randomly select 13 commissioners to redraw the districts, a responsibility that currently rests with the Legislature and governor.

The group expects to face opposition, including a “six-figure legal battle,” when the review of its signatures begins, according to a fundraising email.

Katie Fahey, executive director and founder of Voters Not Politicians, said the group collected about 425,000 in 110 days, but has waited just as long for those submitted signatures to be reviewed.

“It’s time to make sure we can get that change in,” she said.