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Unlock Michigan urges Supreme Court to expedite signature review

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A group seeking to repeal an emergency management law deemed unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court is appealing to the high court to push Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to finish reviewing their more than 539,000 signatures in a timely manner. 

The lawsuit was joined by state Rep. Aaron Miller, a term-limited Sturgis Republican who would lose his chance to vote on the measure if the signature review was pushed into next year.  

"The board must be compelled legally to canvass Unlock Michigan's petition now," the lawsuit said. "...This court acts swiftly when justice requires it. And plaintiffs have real concerns that they cannot get swift justice anywhere else."

A ballot committee called Unlock Michigan that wants to repeal a state law that gives the governor emergency powers formed on June 1, 2020.

Benson's office will not give preferential treatment to the Unlock Michigan petition or any other, especially when law allows the Bureau of Elections months to process the petition, said Tracy Wimmer, a spokeswoman for Benson.

"The Bureau of Elections must direct all of its staff and resources to ensuring successful execution of what may be the most highly anticipated election in a generation, which is taking place in the midst of a global pandemic that is requiring the bureau to provide unprecedented levels of support to every one of the 1,600 local election clerks across the state," she said.

Unlock Michigan submitted its signatures Oct. 2 to the Bureau of Election with the expectation that the bureau would review the group's signatures within 60 days. After that review, the Board of State Canvassers would decide whether it had the needed signatures for certification before shipping it to the Legislature. 

Unlock Michigan hoped the GOP-led Legislature would adopt the repeal before the end of the year and avoid sending the petition to the ballot box while still escaping the governor's veto pen.

If the review is pushed into 2021, Unlock Michigan faces the possibility of sending it to a hostile majority in the Legislature should Democrats take control of the state House in the Nov. 3 election. 

But Benson's office has said it could take the Bureau of Elections 105 days or longer to review a sample of signatures to determine their validity, noting elections staff was especially burdened with the upcoming presidential election. 

"The requirement for expedited review does not apply here," Benson said in a Wednesday letter to GOP Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake. The letter was attached to the lawsuit.

"In the case of the Unlock petition, the deadline for the Board of Canvassers to review the petition is July 2022, more than 600 days from now," Benson wrote.

The lawsuit specifically seeks the court to issue a temporary restraining order requiring the board to canvass the signatures immediately or, at the very least, before the end of Miller's term in December.

"Defendants are deliberately delaying the canvassing process, which ordinarily takes 60 days, intending that the delay will prevent the initiative from being considered by the current Republican-controlled Legislature by the end of the year," the lawsuit said. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com