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State Supreme Court strikes down restrictions on petition drives

Judge's gavel on table in office
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Judge's gavel on table in office

The Michigan Supreme Court has struck down major parts of a law that placed additional restrictions on petition campaigns to initiate or challenge laws or to amend the state Constitution.

It was a divided court on many of the issues, but the majority opinion struck down a requirement that no more than 15% of signatures for a statewide petition drive could come from any one congressional district. The court also struck down a provision that would require paid petition circulators to file an affidavit with the state.

“Completing an affidavit in front of a local notary and then filing it with the Secretary of State before a single signature can be gathered is a substantial burden and precondition on one’s ability to engage in political speech,” the majority ruled.

The challenge was filed by the League of Women Voters, Progress Michigan, the Coalition to Close Lansing Loopholes and Michiganders for Fair and Transparent Elections.

“We felt that there were unconstitutional provisions of the law back in 2018 when it was passed that were really meant to hinder efforts to collect signatures to actually get anything put forward as a ballot measure,” said Lonnie Scott of Progress Michigan.

The law was adopted by a Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by then-Governor Rick Snyder. That was after petition drives successfully amended the state Constitution to make it easier to vote absentee and to create a non-partisan redistricting commission. Both were considered progressive triumphs.

The court upheld part of the law that requires paid petition circulators to check a box indicating that they are, in fact, paid petition circulators, on every petition form. The court held that’s a transparency measure in the public interest.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.