Unlock Michigan petition has enough valid signatures, election bureau finds

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Bureau of Elections has recommended the certification of a petition that would repeal a law underpinning many of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders issued early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Board of State Canvassers will consider the bureau’s recommendation at Thursday’s meeting even as a lawsuit seeks a halt to the board's consideration of Unlock Michigan’s petition.

"If the Board of Canvassers does its duty on Thursday, this can be in front of the Legislature as soon as next week," Unlock Michigan spokesman Fred Wszolek said Monday.

The opposition group Keep Michigan Safe said the staff report ignored "90% of our many procedural and substantive challenges."

"We’re disappointed, but we will make our case to the Board of Canvassers and the courts to stop this ill-conceived and irresponsible petition drive," group spokesman Mark Fisk said. 

Of the 506 signatures sampled, 434 or 86% were determined to be valid, the bureau said Monday. The result led the staff to estimate about 460,358 signatures of the total 538,345 submitted were valid. Unlock Michigan needed 340,047 signatures to obtain certification.

The signatures rejected by the bureau were determined invalid because of signer address and date errors. 

Aside from the 506 signature sample, the bureau said it rejected 348 petition sheets containing 1,614 signatures because of issues with the circulator sheet, jurisdiction errors or signer errors. 

Liz Wagner of Stevensville holds a sign on Oct. 2, 2020, after Unlock Michigan delivered 539,384 petition signatures to the Michigan Department of State Bureau of Elections in Lansing,. The bureau found enough valid signatures to recommend the Board of State Canvassers certify the proposal seeking to revoke Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's ability to govern by emergency decree.

Should the board of two Democrats and two Republicans certify the petition, the proposed repeal of the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act would go to the GOP-led Legislature, which is expected to adopt and enact the repeal and avoid a Whitmer veto. Unlock Michigan said it expects the Legislature will not send it to the 2022 ballot for voters to decide.

The law was ruled an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power to the governor by the Michigan Supreme Court on Oct. 2. Whitmer has since had her state health department director use the public health code to issue epidemic orders that carry largely the same weight as her executive orders. 

Keep Michigan Safe filed suit in the state Court of Claims last week seeking to stop the board’s consideration of the signatures, arguing the rules the board must follow while considering the signatures never went through the proper rule-making process.

The case is pending before Judge Michael Kelly.

"We are hopeful that the frivolous lawsuits and complaints filed can be quickly dispensed with, so the voice of the people can be heard on this," Unlock Michigan's Wszolek said. "And even more importantly, we hope Gov. Whitmer will hear these voices too, end her practice of governing by decree and work with the Legislature going forward."

The bureau acknowledged Monday that Keep Michigan Safe also challenged the petition's summary and that lawyer Steve Liedel challenged the formatting of the petition. But staff noted that the wording and form had been approved unanimously by the bipartisan Board of State Canvassers on July 6.  

Of the 168 signatures challenged by Keep Michigan Safe, the bureau rejected 110 and overlapped in determinations on another 57. One challenge was accepted.