Conyers: Board Ruling on Emergency Manager Law Repeal Petitions A Blow to Democracy for 203,238 Citizens Who Signed
Detroit, MI, May 1, 2012
(DETROIT) – Last Thursday, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers ruled not to validate the petitions placing a referendum on Michigan’s emergency manager law on the ballot. In a split 2-2 decision, The Board did not validate the petitions after a group opposed to the referendum argued that text of the petition was not printed in the required 14 point font size, despite an affidavit submitted by the printer asserting the contrary. Previously, the State Bureau of Elections determined the validity of 203,238 signatures collected on the petitions, 40,000 more than required by law. House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) released the following statement:
It appears, yet again, that access to democracy has been denied for the people of Michigan. Upset by the deleterious impact PA 4 has had on cities, school systems, and municipalities throughout the state, the people garnered over 220,000 signatures in pursuit of a referendum on the emergency manager law. The State Bureau of Elections found that 203,238 signatures were valid—40,000 more than the number required by law—and they recommended that the Board of Canvassers certify the signatures. But after the conservative group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility challenged the petitions’ form by claiming the typeface used in their headings was too small under Michigan election law §168.482, the Board of Canvassers last Thursday deadlocked on a vote that should have been administrative in nature. The Board’s failure to certify more than 200,000 signatures from Michigan citizens has halted democracy in the State of Michigan.
I disagree with the Board’s decision not to approve the efforts of the thousands of citizens who fought hard to have their voice heard. In addition to significant case law supporting the petition’s form, a sworn affidavit from the actual printer of the petitions helps establish that the heading was in size fourteen point, and boldface type, in compliance with Michigan election law §168.482.
I am just as concerned about the non-recusal of Jeffrey Timmer, who not only sits on the Board of Canvassers, but works for a political consulting firm which formed Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility (CFR)—challengers to the repeal effort. I believe the citizens of Michigan deserve to know whether he directly participated in any consultation, advisory or formation role as it relates to CFR, as that could potentially jeopardize the decision-making process and the integrity of the Board of Canvassers as a whole. At minimum, it creates a strong appearance of impropriety that should be avoided around such a controversial matter.
Michigan’s elections laws, the courts, and even the Board of Canvassers’ own guidelines do not require a strict application of the statutory provisions related to the form of any referendum petition; in fact, the opposite is quite true. Section 168.544d of Michigan’s election law expressly states that petitions can be circulated in other formats, as long as it substantially complies with §168.482. The Board’s guidelines states that petitions need only be in “substantial compliance” of the law. The will of the people to vote and express their will on any proposal subject to election takes precedent over any concerns over form, as expressed in Meridian Charter Twp v. East Lansing. 101 Mich. App 805, 810 (1980). The people understood the substance of the petition. The people executed their constitutional right to participate in the repeal process.