Pubdate: Fri, 13 May 2016
Source: Detroit News (MI)
Copyright: 2016 The Detroit News
Author: Jonathan Oosting


Lansing - An increasingly long-shot effort to put a marijuana 
legalization measure on Michigan's 2016 ballot suffered another 
setback Thursday, when the Board of State Canvassers deadlocked on a 
policy revision for proving the validity of old signatures.

The two Republicans and two Democrats on the board were at odds over 
state Bureau of Elections recommendations that would have updated and 
eased the state policy for "rebutting" and rehabilitating signatures 
collected outside a traditional 180-day collection window. The 
proposed updates stalled in a series of 2-2 votes.

The stalemate is "an outrage," said Jeff Hank, an attorney and 
executive director of MI Legalize, who added the ballot committee may 
ultimately pursue legal action in hopes of forcing the issue onto the ballot.

"We'll vigorously defend our rights and the rights of every Michigan 
voter to have ballot access," he said. "That's what this is about 
now; it's about our rights as Michigan citizens to petition."

MI Legalize faces a June 1 deadline to turn in at least 252,000 valid 
signatures. The group began its petition drive nearly a year ago, and 
Hank said circulators have collected an estimated 200,000 signatures 
that could be disqualified under current policy.

At issue is a state law that usually requires committees to collect 
signatures within a 180-day period, along with a little-known policy 
allowing groups to use otherwise "stale and void" signatures if they 
can prove signers were registered to vote during the 180-day window.

Current policy requires affidavits from individual election clerks, 
but Hank requested an update to reflect new technology. The Bureau of 
Elections recommended a revised policy that would use the Qualified 
Voter File database to prove registration status.

Republican board appointee Norm Shinkle argued against any kind of 
policy update.

"We're here today because there are people in the field who have 
failed to gather their signatures in the allotted time that has been 
with us for 30 years," he said. "We should not be changing the rules 
in the middle of the game."

Shinkle also noted that the Republican-led Legislature is considering 
a bill that would eliminate the ability to rehabilitate old 
signatures. The Senate has approved the measure, which is awaiting 
action in the House.

"They're going to do something with it, and we should wait to see 
what the House is going to do," he said.

Hank accused some legislators and Board of Canvassers members of 
seeking to limit the "core speech" rights of petitioners by standing 
in the way of the recommended policy update, which is also supported 
by an anti-hydraulic fracturing group seeking to make the ballot with 
a proposal to ban extracting oil and natural gas through "fracking."

After the hearing, he reiterated that MI Legalize will consider legal 
action, arguing the 180-day window itself violates the state Constitution.

"That's a shame, because this could all be avoided," Hank said. "Norm 
Shinkle wants to cost taxpayers money. He doesn't want to protect our 
rights to vote. He doesn't want to protect our right to petition. 
There's a problem."

Bureau of Elections Director Chris Thomas presented canvassers with 
two possible policy updates: one that would have clarified the 
current process for challenging old signatures and another that would 
have revised the process to make it easier.

The current policy, which the board adopted in 1986, involves "quite 
a laborious process," Thomas said.

Obtaining voter registration affidavits from individual election 
clerks "never made much sense," he said. "If you're going to have 
them sign that, you might as well have (voters) sign the petition again."

Hank said clerks have refused to verify old signatures, as prescribed 
under the current policy, and Thomas said a handful of clerks have 
told him the same.

"You can't create a policy that's just impossible," said Hank. "It's 
like asking us to find a unicorn."

Democratic appointee Julie Matuzak pushed for a vote on the policy 
recommendations, arguing the board should not assume the Legislature 
is going to address a policy that has not been changed since 1986.

"I do think it's incumbent upon us to understand that technology 
changes," she said, referencing the ability to verify voter 
registration via the Qualified Voter File.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom