Elections bureau: Petition aiming to expand bias protections short on signatures

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The state Bureau of Elections said Thursday a petition initiative seeking to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity had too few signatures. 

The bureau recommended the Michigan Board of State Canvassers deny the certification of the petition, effectively ending the effort to put the proposal before voters. 

The board is expected to meet Tuesday to consider the bureau's recommendation.

Fair and Equal Michigan, the group leading the petition initiative, vowed to fight the bureau's rejection of "thousands of signatures that are valid."

"The Department of State has failed to issue rules as mandated by the Legislature since 2005 to establish standards for determining the validity of petition signatures," group spokesman Josh Hovey said in a Thursday statement. "For this reason, any determination made by the department staff is inconsistent with the requirements of Michigan's election law."

The bureau reviewed a random sample of 502 signatures from Fair and Equal Michigan and determined 165 were invalid due to invalid registration status, address errors and date errors. Under bureau rules, a sample with fewer than 369 valid signatures should be denied. 

Mike Jespersen of Pinckney helps load boxes of petition signatures for the Fair and Equal Michigan campaign outside the Michigan Secretary of State's office on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.

"The random sample result also indicates that the petition sponsor is 33 sampled signatures short of the minimum number required to draw a second sample," the report said.

Launched in January 2020, the initiative sought an expansion of the 1976 Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on religion, race, age, sex and other attributes. 

The Legislature has debated for years the potential inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity, with Republican leaders voicing concerns the legislation would infringe on religious rights. 

Fair and Equal Michigan last year was granted an extra 69 days beyond the 180-day deadline for gathering signatures because of COVID-19 restrictions that made it difficult to collect signatures. The group also attempted to gather signatures electronically last year because of the added COVID stresses. 

In October, Fair and Equal Michigan submitted more than 483,000 petition signatures to the Secretary of State's office. 

The Board of State Canvasser's Tuesday meeting will include the consideration of a 100-word summary from Unlock Michigan for a petition initiative seeking to set a 28-day limit on public health epidemic orders. 

The final certification of Unlock Michigan's separate petition seeking to repeal a 1945 law was not on the agenda. Board leadership has said in the past it is awaiting a final Michigan Supreme Court decision on the proposal before attempting to vote on its certification. 

Staff Writer Craig Mauger contributed.