Michigan Republican lawmakers challenge Nessel opinion on ballot drive law

Two groups, both aiming to restrict access to abortion in Michigan, have formed committees to mount ballot drives in 2020. A showdown between Michigan’s Democratic Attorney General and state Republicans will determine the requirements that any group must meet to get their cause on a state ballot. (File photo)

The Republican-led Michigan House and Senate plan to sue Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson for not enforcing a lame-duck law that would make it harder for groups to land a citizen initiative on the ballot, House Republicans announced Wednesday.

The law requires ballot petitioners to gather no more than 15 percent of their signatures from any one congressional district in the state. Rep. James Lower, the law’s sponsor, argued this would ensure statewide ballot initiatives have at least some support outside urban centers.

Republicans passed the ballot collection restrictions in the last days of 2018, after the passage in the November elections of ballot measures favored by progressives to legalize recreational marijuana and change the state’s redistricting laws.

May 22, 2019: Nessel: GOP limits on petition drives are unconstitutional
Dec. 28, 2018: Gov. Snyder signs bill making ballot initiatives more difficult
Dec. 13, 2018: Michigan House passes bill putting new requirements on ballot initiatives

Attorney General Dana Nessel deemed several parts of the law unconstitutional late last month, concluding that the law “creates an obstacle for voters without any support in the Constitution itself.” Attorney General opinions are considered binding on state agencies, including the Secretary of State, which oversees elections in the state.

The House and Senate say they will file two suits against Benson in the Court of Claims and in the Michigan Court of Appeals on Wednesday, arguing Nessel’s opinion is invalid because the laws are indeed constitutional. If they win, Benson would be required to enforce the original Republican-passed law.

“The attorney general and secretary of state are grasping at straws in an attempt to circumvent the requirements of a duly enacted law,” Lower said in a statement. “They don’t get to pick and choose which laws to enforce based on personal preference.”

In addition to the signature cap, the Republican law required ballot petition circulators to sign an affidavit with the state saying whether they’re paid or volunteer (and display that designation when gathering signatures) and required the Secretary of State to create petition forms based on congressional districts rather than counties. Nessel said these provisions were also unconstitutional.

Lower argues the lame-duck law would increase transparency in the ballot initiative process, which he argued has been fueled by moneyed out-of-state interests in recent years.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's office, said in a statement, “we remain exceedingly confident in our opinion ... and expect our legal arguments and assessment of the constitutionality of PA 608 will be upheld by any court which reviews the matter.” A spokesman for the Secretary of State's office said they have not yet seen the filing and declined comment.

Two groups, both seeking to restrict abortion in Michigan, have created committees to run a ballot drive in 2020.

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Bob Potocki
Thu, 06/06/2019 - 8:50am

No kidding- People living in urban areas should only count a certain amount? Like half a vote? This is crazy. This gerrymandered legislature needs to be dissolved and reconstituted with fairly elected, citizen representatives. And they should never seek to deny the inherent right of citizens, endowed by their creator, to write and vote on laws governing the society. Those are the powers reserved to the people that have been assaulted by tyrants. Madison warned of legislative tyranny. We got it here in Michigan.

Jim V
Thu, 06/06/2019 - 8:58am

Rep. James Lower and his republican colleagues are the ones who are grasping at straws. The last minute, lame duck laws that they passed are an attempt by the republican leadership to insure that Michigan remains a state run by the minority and serving the well-healed establishment. The times they are a changin'.

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 11:31am

The Michigan would gladly prohibit voting for anyone but Republicans if they could get away with it. In fact, they love to get rid of voting and ballot questions altogether.

Campaign contributors should decide everything according to the GOP. Their contributors, of course.

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 11:59am

Is it democratic to have one small area of Michigan to be allowed to cram down a proposal on the ballot for the whole state? Sounds worse than the Gerrymandering that you folks are so against. Isn't it right to have other areas of the state involved in putting a propose on the ballot rather than a concentrated area? Sounds undemocratic to require anything but this to me.

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 1:32pm

I see the attempt at changing the law passed by the House as being akin to doing away with the Electoral College. Either doing away with the EC, or Nessel’s attempt to void the petition requirements would effectively do away with the votes of rural, small districts, and place all power in the hands of a few concentrated areas. Just think ahead a few years when the VNP commission does away with all gerrymandering. What are you going to say to others in your party when they find out that their votes do not count any more than when they were gerrymandered. Let’s not create a frying pan and fire effect.

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 7:05pm

Allowing a handful of people to restrict citizens from participating in ballot issues is despicable. Rural folks don’t get to decide for everyone. Lame duck chicanery needs to be made illegal. Cons need to go. Elect progressives, not regressives.

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 11:15am

AG's have become more powerful and important than Governors who can only sign or veto what's given to them by State Leg. AG gets to take bill already passed by Leg, and declare them unconstitutional and then make Leg. fight them in court. An amazing leap! The left never thinks of precedence until they don't like who's doing it.

Wed, 12/11/2019 - 3:59pm

If they weighted the % from each district to match the % of the population in that district, would that balance this law out?

Like, a district with 10,000 people in it would get the same % of total signatures as a district with 100,000 people. (If total pop = 1,000,000, the 10,000 ppl district would get 1% of the opinion and the 100k district would get 10%). Yes I know MI has more than 1million residents, this is just to show the math in an example.

...or is my math off?