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Petition to revamp redistricting approved to form by canvassers

August 22, 2017

Article courtesy of MIRS

After 50-plus days of state review, the group pushing for redistricting reform overcame a last-minute issue with its paperwork and had its constitutional amendment petition approved to form by the Board of State Canvassers (BSC) Thursday.

The proposal from Voters Not Politicians (VNP) had finally come before the BSC after 51 days of review by the state’s Bureau of Elections, as new state Elections Director Sally Williams said this proposal was particularly complex. 

VNP had submitted a draft of its intended language to the state in late June, and by mid-July the group had begun questioning the length of the review process. 

After getting the Bureau’s recommendation to have the BSC approve the petition to form, a new issue came up: The affidavit from the petition’s printer didn’t have the actual name of the petition on it. 

Each petition submitted to the state must have a signed affidavit from the petition’s printer that must verify the petition meets the various legal requirements for the petition format, Williams said, such as font sizes. 

Secretary of State spokesperson Fred Woodhams said the Bureau started providing the affidavit form after 2012 lawsuits dealing with petition font sizes, so as to avoid future discussions on font sizes and types. 

The issue was that VNP didn’t use the affidavit as provided by the Secretary of State’s website, which included a line to print the petition name. The signed affidavit the group originally supplied had no line to write the petition’s name. 

But the oversight of the missing name also slipped by Williams and her staff in recommending the petition to the BSC for approval to form. 

While Williams said the absence of the group’s name didn’t change the Bureau’s recommendation, a few Canvassers didn’t want to move forward without paperwork that included the petition name, and asked the group to get a new affidavit signed. 

Both Republican Canvasser Colleen Pero and Democrat Canvasser Julie Matuzak raised the issue of the missing petition name and were in agreement that even though it was a small detail, the group needed to provide the same information that every other petition would present. 

Asked if it could become a legal hurdle for VNP later on, Williams said it could be. 

At that point, the Canvassers recessed, allowing the group to track down its printer and a notary to resubmit an affidavit with the appropriate information. 

When the Canvassers reconvened and approved the petition to form, the crowd of VNP supporters who attended the Lansing Center meeting broke out into applause. 

VNP president Katie Fahey said the group plans to begin petitioning immediately to garner the 315,654 signatures in six months. 

Fahey said the group doesn’t have the money to pay for signatures, but she has 4,000 people signed up to collect signatures, so she said the group is “confident” they can do it without paid gatherers. She acknowledged the group would need to kick up its efforts in the next few months before the colder weather sets in. 

The group’s proposal sets up a 13-member independent commission tasked with redrawing legislative and congressional lines. The proposal also contains the process for how to go about selecting members of the commission and who is and is not eligible.

GOP consultant Jamie Roe was in the audience during the deliberations, ready to pounce on the VNP petition. He argued the backers are selling themselves as independents, but, “this is a bunch of Democrats who can’t win elections so they are trying to rig the system.” 

He also declared the proposal unconstitutional and he takes the strongest exception to the provision that would bar family members who have partisan relatives from serving on the newly created commission under this plan. 

“Why should my mother and father be excluded because I worked for a congressperson?” Roe asked, while suggesting nowhere in the constitution is such a prohibition allowed. 

Fahey contended Republicans have gerrymandered the system, considering that “there are fourteen congressional districts so you would expect there would be a seven-seven split. But it was 9-5 for the Republicans even though the people voted 50-50.” 

Fahey acknowledged the proposal is complex, touching all three branches of government. Williams said much of the same, who opened her remarks on the VNP proposal at the meeting with a defense of the Bureau’s process on reviewing the language. 

Leaders for VNP had been questioning the Bureau’s timeliness in July, going so far as to say they were told they were put on the back burner.

Williams said the Bureau had reviewed six different drafts of the VNP petition, and that this constitutional amendment was the most complex the Bureau has tackled in recent memory. Williams said the final proposal would alter 11 provisions of the constitution. 

“For anyone who has been left with the impression there have been unnecessary or deliberate delays in this review process, I can assure you this has not been the case,” Williams said. 

Williams told MIRS she felt it was important to say that because, “there’s been a lot stated, written about this effort and the amount of time that it has taken us to complete our review . . . I just wanted to go on record about . . . what we have done and the complexity of what we’ve gone through.” 

Third Time A Charm For Paid Sick Leave? 

The BSC also approved to form a petition allowing employees to earn paid sick leave, which Bureau staff said was similar to two previous proposals that have come before the BSC. 

Danielle Atkinson, leader of the MI Time to Care group, when asked what the group planned to do to get the proposal across the finish line this time, said there’s more support and more recognition of paid sick leave thanks to previous efforts. 

“We are really excited about being able to work on an issue that’s so popular and so needed right now,” she said. 

Atkinson did not provide details about the group’s finances or if it would be paying for signatures, saying there would be more information about the campaign launch at a later date. She did say they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t think they had the means to conduct the campaign. 

The BSC also approved to form a constitutional amendment petition from Abrogate Prohibition Michigan, which would legalize the agricultural, personal, recreational, commercial or other use of marijuana. No one on behalf of the group got up to speak at the meeting Thursday. 

But Jeff Hank of MILegalize, which is currently assisting with the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol and its efforts to legalize recreational marijuana, does not foresee any voter confusion over the two plans. 

He said the Abrogate Prohibition petition “would repeal and negate all of the cannabis laws entirely” including the most recent one creating a medical marijuana regulatory commission. 

He said the last time this competing group did a drive they gathered only about 10,000 signatures, so he is not seriously concerned with that effort.

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