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State canvassing board moves some petitions closer to signature-gathering, disappoints others

web image of four people sitting at tables in government building
Michigan Board of State Canvassers Zoom Meeting

Several petitions are closer to beginning signature collection after Friday’s Michigan Board of State Canvassers meeting.

The board approved petition forms for seven efforts. Form approval is an optional step campaigns often take to shield themselves against potential lawsuits.

Among the approved campaigns was an effort to decriminalize so-called “magic mushrooms” and other psychoactive plants. The statewide proposal is similar to rules in place in Detroit and Washtenaw County.

A petition aiming to protect Michiganders from predatory loan practices also received form approval.

So did a group called Unlock Michigan II, which brought a petition that would set a four-week expiration date for executive orders, and a petition from Secure MI Vote that would tighten voter ID laws in the state.

Secure MI Vote spokesperson Jamie Roe said circulators have already been out in the field.

“You have a six-month window; we could not waste time," Roe said. "We couldn’t give away those days until this board met. We were confident what we had was fine and, as it turns out, it was."

Both efforts had received form approval once before. But they went back to the board after the state Supreme Court ruled petitions needed a checkbox stating whether a signature gatherer was being paid.

It’s possible the petitions would never reach Michigan voters even if they reach the needed 340,047 signature threshold. The Republican-led Legislature could adopt them into law without the Democratic governor’s approval.

“What the Legislature does is up to the Legislature. They can decide whether to hear it or not. Or whether to approve it or not to approve it. If they do, it becomes law and that’s fine by us. We want it to be made law,” Roe said.

An opposing ballot initiative from the group MI Right to Vote would amend the state constitution to take that power away from the Legislature altogether.

Another amendment proposed by MI Right to Vote would require two weekends of in-person absentee voting, among other changes to state election rules.

Meanwhile, another group called Promote the Vote is preparing to circulate its own constitutional amendment petition to expand voting access in Michigan.

“We started from, 'What is it that voters want to see in our voting system?' And what they said time and again is they want a voting system that works for all of us,” senior advisor Sharon Dolente said.

She named three main goals of the campaign: add early in-person voting, protect existing in-person and by-mail voting rights, and address election subversion concerns from the 2020 general election.

Promote the Vote spearheaded election changes in 2018 as well. Those included no-excuse absentee voting and same day voter registration.

This time, they’re partnering with the group Voters, Not Politicians in a coalition. That organization’s 2018 ballot efforts led to the creation of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

“We’re extremely excited about working together with this non-partisan coalition of organizations, but also to put all the volunteer manpower in Voters, Not Politicians to work in order to bring Michigan more secure, modern, and accessible elections,” Voters, Not Politicians deputy director Jamie Lyons-Eddy said.

The group said it's aiming to start canvassing in March to meet the 425,059-signature threshold for a constitutional amendment to appear on the November ballot.

Before it does so, it needs to adjust a small union logo that appears in the bottom-left corner of the petition next to a recycling symbol. It signifies the forms were printed with a union-affiliated printer.

Republican members of the canvassing board said words within the logo were smaller than the 8-point font the law requires.

Former Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer is advising two campaigns. He called the hold-up over the logo unprecedented.

“Union labels have been on petitions in this state for decades. No one’s ever objected. The board has repeatedly approved such petitions, and this is nothing more than a political maneuver,” Brewer said.

A split board did not approve the forms for Brewer’s clients, Raise MI Wage and Reproductive Freedom for All, due to the label.

“I’ll talk to my clients about our options,” Brewer said following the board’s votes.

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