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Michigan petition drives plagued by forgery. Only one makes ballot deadline

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Only one petition drive submitted enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, a measure to restrict interest on payday lending. (Shutterstock)

MACKINAC ISLAND — Only one ballot initiative aiming to change state laws submitted enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, as high-profile petition campaigns were undone by a lack of valid signatures and forgery concerns.

Those proposals — ranging from tightening the state’s election rules to raising the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour — missed the Wednesday signature submission deadline.

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Organizers of the proposals, particularly those led by conservatives, said they hope to submit signatures later this year in hopes the Republican-led Legislature will pass them into law. Those efforts could face significant hurdles.

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As it stands, the only petition drive to make the deadline was Michiganders for Fair Lending, a proposal to cap the annual interest rates for payday loans at 36 percent and allow the state attorney general to prosecute lenders who exceed that rate.

The group said it turned in 405,625 signatures, well over the 340,047 valid signatures required for the ballot. State officials still must review them for their validity.

The failure of high-profile ballot measures is the latest fallout from a forged signature scandal that has roiled the Republican gubernatorial ranks in recent weeks. 

The Board of State Canvassers kept five candidates, including James Craig and Perry Johnson, off the ballot due to lack of valid signatures. Legal challenges of the decision have failed so far.

Experts have said the soaring prices for professional circulators — up to $20 per signature gathered — may have incentivized cheating

The failed proposals are:

  • Secure MI Vote, which would require voter ID for in-person voting and absentee ballot applications and ban outside election funds.
  • Let MI Kids Learn, which would establish a private donation-funded scholarship to cover nonpublic education expenses and give donors tax credits.
  • Unlock Michigan II, which would curb the length of state and local health department emergency orders.
  • Audit Michigan, which would force a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election and change how Michigan conducts audits after elections.
  • Raise the Wage MI to Michigan’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. Michigan United, which would repeal truth in sentencing laws that require those convicted of crimes to serve their entire minimum sentences.
  • Michigan Initiative for Community Healing, which would decriminalize the use and production of natural plants or mushrooms and lower the penalties for possession from a felony to a misdemeanor.
  • Decertify MI, which would declare Donald Trump as winner of the 2020 presidential election and “decertify” the election results in Michigan.

Other ballot measures are still alive. Groups pushing to amend the state constitution — including one proposal declaring abortion as a right and others expanding voting access — have until July 11 to submit 425,059 valid signatures to appear on the November ballot.

Organizers of Let MI Kids Learn, which was pushed by former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and Secure MI Vote said they plan to continue to collect signatures in hopes of presenting the petition to lawmakers this year.

“No legitimate reason that can’t happen,” Let MI Kids Learn campaign spokesperson Fred Wszolek told Bridge Michigan.

He also represents the Unlock Michigan petition drive and said the campaign will try to present the issue before the Legislature next year.

Secure MI Vote spokesperson Jamie Roe said he still expects to submit signatures within “weeks” to the Secretary of State’s office.

The campaign used a "quality control" process to weed out roughly 20,000 signatures that appear to have been forged by paid circulators, Roe said, indicating the campaign plans to refer those individuals to law enforcement.

"Fraud should not be tolerated," Roe said, telling reporters that because his group aims to improve election security, they took extra steps to avoid association with circulators whose forged signatures have upended the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Several obstacles remain for the groups. Wednesday was the signature deadline because state law requires them to be delivered 160 days before the election. Campaigns also can only submit signatures gathered during any 180-day period.

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If petitioners wait until after the November election to submit their signatures, the signature threshold — at least 8 percent of votes cast during the last gubernatorial election — would change according to the voter turnout this November

By then, though, the balance of power in the state Legislature may change, and new members may not be as amenable to the measures.

Some petition groups that missed the deadline have pledged to challenge Bureau of Elections staff and force them to review signatures even if they are submitted in the coming weeks or months. 

“We’re going to put some pressure on them to do their job,” Roe said Wednesday.

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