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Canvassers Deadlock On Older Sig Policy Change, Preserve Status Quo

May 17, 2016

An effort to change verification of older signatures collected on ballot initiatives — favored by a marijuana legalization and anti-fracking campaign — failed today when the Board of State Canvassers (BSC) deadlocked on votes to change the policy.

The BSC was presented two options: Revise the policy, or clarify the verification process under the current policy. Each would potentially make it easier to count signatures collected beyond the typical 180-day window allowed for petition gathering campaigns. 

But the Canvassers deadlocked on party lines for both votes — Republicans Norm SHINKLE and Colleen PERO voted no to both, and Democrats Jeannette BRADSHAW and Julie MATUZAK voted yes. 

A motion by Shinkle to table the measure for two weeks also failed on party lines, as he and Pero favored delaying action while Democrats didn’t want that. Bradshaw, who chairs the BSC, paused for a short period of time before eventually voting no with Matuzak. 

Afterward Jeffrey HANK, the MILegalize campaign leader who has pushed to change the policy, said his group would proceed to turn in all of their signatures – old or not – on June 1, and consider taking the issue to court if the petition isn’t certified. 

Hank first brought the issue to the BSC in December 2015, arguing the current policy to verify signatures collected outside the 180 days was burdensome to comply with (See “Hank Wants Easier Process To Verify Older Petition Sigs,” 12/3/15). 

Each signature would need to be proven it was signed by someone registered to vote both at the time of the signature and during the 180-day period, which could be accomplished by acquiring affidavits from local clerks. 

Hank argued this week that clerks are not required and unwilling to comply with such a task, and State Elections Director Chris THOMAS said today he could find no such requirement in the law (See “MILegalize: Up To 200K Older Sigs Need More Validation,” 5/9/16). 

After months of deliberation and input received from various parties, Thomas gave the BSC two options: They could either adopt a clarified procedure under the current policy, or revise the policy to rely more on the Qualified Voter File (QVF) for verification and eliminate the need to seek affidavits and certification from local clerks. 

After Thomas’ presentation, Shinkle said the BSC shouldn’t change the rules while there are petitions in the field. He also mentioned SB 0776, which is sitting in the House and would set a hard 180-day collection deadline and do away with the older signature verification process altogether (See “Pro-Marijuana Legalization, Anti-Fracking Dodge Bullet,” 4/27/16). 

But Matuzak said that technology changes, and that she supports using the QVF for this process, saying the board should be as liberal as possible in counting signatures on petitions. 

Hank said much the same when he addressed the board today, arguing that if someone were registered to vote, that person’s voice should count on the petition if they signed it. He challenged the board to step up and change the policy. 

After the meeting, Hank called the entire affair “an outrage” and went after Shinkle, suggesting he’s been “lobbied” by the oil and gas sector, and criticized him for ducking out of the previous BSC meeting (See “Lack Of Quorum Means No Statutory Presumption Testimony For Canvassers,” 4/25/16). 

“That’s what this is about now, it’s about our rights as Michigan citizens to petition, and Norm Shinkle wants to ignore reality. Sorry, but we’re going to put reality right back in his face,” Hank said. 

An attempt to reach Shinkle later in the day Thursday was unsuccessful. 

Oil and gas and business groups have been opposed to the policy change, considering it would give the anti-fracking campaign an easier time to collect the required signatures to put its initiative closer to the ballot. 

Further, Hank went so far as to argue that requiring verification of signatures beyond the 180 days is unconstitutional, and would also like to argue that in court if a lawsuit were to happen. 

He argues the constitution provides a nearly four-year window for collecting signatures, and that can’t be changed without a vote of the people. 

Even though he believes the older signature verification process is not valid, Hank said he is going to go along with it and show the state that his campaign verified the older signatures he plans to turn in.

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