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Font size fight over EM referendum may reach Michigan Supreme Court

The Michigan Hall of Justice
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Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility has been trying to block a statewide referendum on Michigan’s emergency manager law. Today, the group filed a request asking the Michigan Supreme Court to overturn a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling earlier this month that would allow voters to decide on emergency managers.

The group says a mistake in the font size that pro-referendum campaigners Stand Up for Democracy used in a portion of the text of their petitions was too small under regulations. 

Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility believes the font size is reason enough to keep the emergency manager referendum off the November ballot.

On June 8, MPRN's Rick Pluta reported that the Michigan Court of Appeals refused to convene a special panel that could have reversed a precedent that says the referendum campaign met the minimum requirements to qualify for the ballot.

He reported:

The court found the referendum campaign was in substantial compliance with state election law. That’s despite a question over whether a portion of its petition was printed in the wrong font size. But the court said it does not agree with the earlier decision that governs the case. So the court delayed enforcement of its decision, and called for a rarely used procedure that’s usually used to reconcile conflicting case law.

Meanwhile, proponents of the referendum are getting anxious over the court's delay in taking action on that ruling,Michigan Radio's SarahCwiek reported yesterday:

Gathering at the Michigan Court of Appeals in Detroit Thursday, they discovered the court is still sitting on a motion referendum supporters made asking the court to put their ruling to "immediate effect"—essentially forcing the state Board of Canvassers to put the question on the ballot. Melvin "Butch" Hollowell is leading the legal challenge on behalf of the Detroit NAACP. He told the assembled crowd it’s time to put pressure directly on Appeals Court judges. "You need to know who the judges are. And we actually have photographs of the judges. We want you to know who some of these faceless judges are, so they can feel the pressure of the people," he said. Hollowell say activists plan sit-downs and other civil disobedience measures to put pressure on judges. And he warns the federal government could get involved if the case drags out too long.

Today, Pluta boiled down the argument this way:

There are two issues here. One is whether the ballot committee that wants to repeal the law complied with a rule about how petitions are printed. State election law says part of the petition must be printed in 14-point type. There’s a dispute over how that should be measured.. The second issue is whether a technicality like font size is enough to keep a question off the ballot after more than 200,000 people signed petitions. A legal precedent says as long as a campaign has mostly complied with the law, the question should go to voters. The referendum’s opponents want the state Supreme Court to overturn that precedent. If the court takes the case, the justices will have to act with unusual haste to make their decision to meet the deadlines to get the question on the November ballot.

Now, both groups will wait to see if the State Supreme Court will hear the case and rule on the petition's validity.

Click here to see an infographic explaining the font dispute.

-Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom


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