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Challenges aim to keep abortion, voting proposals off Michigan ballot

Republican opponents contend that the Promote the Vote and Reproductive Freedom for All ballot measures should be kept off the Nov. 8 ballot because of errors. (Bridge file photo)
  • Opponents say voting and abortion rights petitions shouldn’t make Nov. 8 ballot because of errors
  • The Reproductive Freedom For All petition merged words, creating “gibberish,” attorneys argue
  • The Promote The Vote petition omitted sections of the Michigan Constitution it would repeal, opponents say

LANSING — Conservative groups are fighting to keep Michigan voting and abortion rights proposals off the Nov. 8  ballot, arguing a formatting and omission errors should invalidate petitions signed by hundreds of thousands of registered voters. 

The Promote the Vote 2022 petition, which would allow for nine days of early voting and guarantee other voting rights, did not tell voters every section of the Michigan Constitution it would repeal, as required, attorneys for a new opposition group called Defend Your Vote argued Thursday in a written challenge.

The Reproductive Freedom For All petition, which seeks to guarantee abortion rights across the state, lacked appropriate spacing and proposes adding “nonexistent words” into the Michigan Constitution, according to a separate challenge from opposition group Citizens to Support MI Women and Children.

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Petition drive organizers called the challenges “bogus” and “frivolous,” but the bipartisan Board of State Canvassers – or potentially state courts – will ultimately determine whether the proposals should be placed on the general election ballot. 

A decision is necessary no later than Sept. 9.

The Promote the Vote challenge

Michigan law requires petitions to amend the state Constitution to list any sections that would be "altered or abrogated" if the proposal is approved by voters. Opposition attorneys contend the Promote the Vote petition — as circulated earlier this year — failed to do so. 

The proposal would allow nine days of early voting, and the 57-page challenge alleges the petition failed to note it would effectively repeal a section of the Michigan Constitution that currently requires all national, state and local elections to be held on "the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in each even-numbered year."

The proposal would also prohibit new state laws that "burden the fundamental right to vote,” which opponents argued would effectively repeal a section of the constitution allowing the Legislature to "exclude persons from voting" because of mental incompetence or incarceration.

Those and other omissions mean the petition is “defective,” attorneys Jonathan Koch, D. Adam Tountas and Eric Doster wrote in the challenge for Defend Your Vote, which was formed in July and has not yet disclosed any major donors. Doster is a former  general counsel for the Michigan Republican Party.

The Board of State Canvassers must "protect our state's voters … by rejecting it and preventing its inclusion on the November ballot,” they wrote.

Micheal Davis, executive director of Promote the Vote, blasted the challenge as "bogus, baseless and meritless," arguing it “shows the lengths that special interests will go to rig our elections by making voting more difficult and less accessible for people across Michigan."

Promote the Vote "turned in nearly 670,000 signatures from voters across our state because they want safe and secure elections and to protect the right of every eligible citizen to vote," Davis said in a statement. 

“We are confident that Promote the Vote 2022 will appear on the November ballot and that the people of Michigan, not special interests or politicians, will decide.”  

The Reproductive Freedom For All challenge

The Reproductive Freedom For All proposal aims to enshrine abortion rights in the Michigan Constitution, but opponents argue the petition that was signed by voters this year is marred by a significant formatting issue that could instead result in "confusing gibberish" being added to the constitution.

The main issue, they contend, is that the petition did not contain adequate spacing between words, leading to the creation of zombie words like “DECISIONSABOUTALLMATTERSRELATINGTOPREGNANCY" and “INCLUDINGBUTNOTLIMITEDTOMISCARRIAGE."

The challenge filed with the state Thursday was prepared for Citizens to Support MI Women and Children, an opposition group so far funded primarily by Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Catholic Conference. 

In the 152-page challenge, Doster and fellow attorney Michael Smith urged the Board of State Canvassers to reject the petition because it "seeks to insert nonexistent words into the Michigan Constitution.

Canvassers gave "conditional" approval to the form of the petition in March, asking organizers to remove one unnecessary word — a "the" — before collecting signatures. The revised version that was circulated introduced the formatting error that caused "at least 60 changes that were never" approved by the board, according to the challenge.

Mark Brewer, an attorney for Reproductive Freedom for All ballot committee, dismissed the complaint as a "frivolous" attempt to "create confusion and try to slow the process down."

There are "no fake words" in the petition, Brewer said, arguing any formatting dispute is a "ministerial, clerical" issue and "not the basis to deny three-quarters of a million people their right to put something on the ballot."

What’s next

Attorneys for Promote the Vote 2022 and Reproductive Freedom For All now have the opportunity to submit written rebuttals to the challenges ahead of an Aug. 31 meeting of the Board of State Canvassers. 

In that meeting, the canvassers – two Republicans and two Democrats – are expected to decide whether to certify the petitions, which would send the measures to the November ballot. 

If they fail to do so — or deadlock along partisan lines – petition organizers would likely take their case to state court, asking a judge or  judges to require canvassers to certify the petitions. 

The process must be complete by Sept. 9. That’s a hard deadline written into the Michigan Constitution, which requires proposed amendments to be finalized at least 60 days before the general election, which will fall on Nov. 8 this year. 

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