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Lansing — Agreeing with a ruling by a Detroit federal judge, the Michigan Department of State is lowering the signature threshold that political candidates must hit to make primary election ballots to 50% of the normal requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The department revealed the decision Friday morning in a "special announcement" on its website. It came after weeks of legal fights over whether the hurdles for making the ballot should be eased while the state is under a stay-at-home order.

"As the district court declined to amend its order, and with the revised filing deadline today, May 8, the best course of action to reduce further uncertainty in advance of the rapidly approaching August elections is to maintain the procedures that have been in place for the last two and a half weeks," said Jake Rollow, spokesman for the Michigan Department of State and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Under the department's announcement, the filing deadline was extended from April 21 to 5 p.m. Friday and the signature requirement is reduced 50%, so a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives will have to submit 500 valid signatures instead of the normal 1,000. 

Six candidates — three U.S. House candidates and three judicial candidates — filed their petition signatures on Friday in the final hours before the deadline, according to the Department of State's website.

One of them was Nikki Snyder, a Republican State Board of Education member, who's running in the 8th U.S. House District. Snyder is one of five Republicans who hope to challenge incumbent Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly.

The changes were included in an initial order by Detroit U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Berg, who had declared the state's petition requirements for making the ballot unconstitutional while a stay-at-home order is in place.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Berg's finding but said he couldn't set specific changes for altering the requirements. It would have to be done by the state, the three-judge appeals panel said.

The Michigan Department of State then proposed setting the signature thresholds at 70% of the normal requirements and extending the deadline to 5 p.m. Monday.

But multiple candidates said they wouldn't be able to hit the 70% mark by Monday. During a Thursday hearing, Berg seemed to urge state officials to stick with the 50% change he originally ordered.

The changes apply to candidates who filed a statement of organization with the Federal Election Commission or established a candidate committee under the Michigan Campaign Finance Act by March 10, according to the Department of State.

The case resulted from a lawsuit against state officials by Republican U.S. House candidate Eric Esshaki of Birmingham, who's running in the 11th District, where Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, is the incumbent.

Esshaki had argued that the state's requirement that he collect 1,000 petition signatures from registered voters by April 21 during restrictions on public outings to combat COVID-19 violated his constitutional rights.

The Constitution had "prevailed," Esshaki said in a Friday interview.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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