Canvassers vote 3-1 to OK summary language for National Popular Vote ballot initiative

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Delta Township — Michigan canvassers on Tuesday approved the 100-word summary for a ballot initiative that would join Michigan to a multi-state compact aimed at awarding the state's electoral votes to the national popular vote winner. 

If enough states agreed to the compact, future presidential candidates would have a new path to the White House that critics argue would drive candidates to invest in high population areas instead of low population, rural states. But advocates argue the national popular vote would make every state competitive and meaningful since every vote would matter.

Julie Matuzak, a member of the Michigan Board of State Canvassers, approved summary language for a proposed ballot measure about the national popular vote compact.

The language of the summary that will be presented to individuals signing the proposal was debated for more than two hours. Some argued against the proposal itself and others contended the language of the summary didn't do enough to describe the changes that would be made to Michigan's electoral process. 

After several changes to the language, the bipartisan board voted 3-1 to approve the summary, with canvasser Norm Shinkle, a Republican, voting against approval. The group will bring its petition for approval as to form at a later meeting. 

Once the form is approved, the pro-popular vote group will try to gather 340,047 signatures to force votes on the policy in the state Legislature or on a future statewide ballot.

The proposal has bipartisan support because it reinforces the idea of "one person, one vote" and the majority rule used to elect every other candidate in the country, said Mark Brewer, a lawyer for Vote Yes on National Popular Vote.

Brewer, a former chairman for the Michigan Democratic Party, is leading the ballot petition effort with former state Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis. 

"There are people who oppose this, but we're taking this to the people and so what's really important here is how the people of Michigan sign the petition and ultimately whether they vote for it," Brewer said.

The canvassers' duties are largely ministerial and include assuring the language of the summary is accurate, comprehensive and under 100 words. 

"I agree with a lot that’s been said regarding the foolishness of this idea. I think it’s a terrible idea," said canvasser Tony Daunt, a Republican. But, he said, the board's duties are limited and "those issues are not before us right now."

Canvasser Julie Matuzak agreed on the board's role. 

"To agree or not agree with the content of a particular petition is not our job," said Matuzak, a Democrat. 

Opponents argue the effect of the bill would be to surrender Michigan's popular vote to the preferences of states with higher populations, require Michigan to accept other state's election results regardless of their relative election security or practices, and get rid of an electoral process instituted by the founding fathers. Opponents also argued the group's efforts to change the practice through a multistate compact instead of a Constitutional amendment was unconstitutional.

On a more practical note, commentators Tuesday argued summary language referring to the change in public policy as one favoring "one-person, one-vote" was prejudicial and that signers should be informed that, should the policy go into place, Michigan's electoral votes could go to a candidate a majority of state voters did not support. 

The summary "fails to pass the smell test," said Patrice Johnson of Stockbridge.

"The 100-word summary fails," she said and then made a reference to Michigan's elections director. "As a teacher, I would send Mr. Brater’s summary for redrafting.”

The first phrases of the summary are "essentially PR," said Trent England, of opposition groups Save Our States. It would be a negative precedent for the board to allow petitioners to put “marketing language into a petition summary," he said.

Several of the changes suggested by commentators at the meeting were eventually adopted in terms of removing the "one-person, one-vote" language and instead more briefly describing what the initiative would do. 

Brewer eventually agreed with the changes to the language "in the spirit of compromise" but argued the original summary language was also accurate and reminded canvassers they were confined to narrow issues regarding the wording alone.

"90% of what you just heard go to the merits of the petition which you all knew are not in your purview," Brewer said.

Approved Vote Yes on National Popular Vote summary:

Initiation of legislation to: declare Michigan's public policy is that the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide should become president; enter Michigan into a national popular vote agreement, effective when adopted by states which combined have over half the electoral college votes for president, requiring each member state to select presidential electors based on the candidate receiving the most votes nationwide; require the Michigan Secretary of State determine the national popular vote winner by adding vote totals in all states as determined by each state; require Michigan to choose presidential electors based on the national popular vote winner.