Pubdate: Wed, 08 Jun 2016
Source: Detroit News (MI)
Copyright: 2016 The Detroit News
Author: Jonathan Oosting


Lansing - A group seeking to legalize marijuana in Michigan submitted 
an "insufficient" number of valid signatures to qualify for the 
November ballot after collecting outside of a traditional 180-day 
window, state elections officials said Tuesday.

In a staff report, the Bureau of Elections recommended the Board of 
State Canvassers reject the MI Legalize petition at its Thursday meeting.

The activist-led group last week submitted an estimated 354,000 
signatures, more than the 252,523 required to make the ballot, but 
the bureau said only 146,413 were collected within 180 days of the 
filing. State law, updated Tuesday to tighten that window, had 
treated older signatures as "stale and void."

Reviewing petition signatures can often take the bureau at least 60 
days, but Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said the 
identification of old signatures sped up the process, which would 
have otherwise involved testing a sample for validity.

The speedy review could actually benefit MI Legalize, according to 
executive director Jeff Hank, who said the group plans to sue the 
state for ballot access. He argues the 180-day signature window is 
unconstitutional and that the current policy for rehabilitating older 
signatures makes the task impossible.

"The only way we're probably going to rectify this is through 
litigation, and the fact that the Bureau has made this decision in a 
timely fashion gives us enough time to litigate," Hank said. "We're 
going to fight for the rights of every Michigan voter and make sure 
we get this on the ballot."

Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday signed a new law solidifying the 180-day 
collection window on petition drives for initiated legislation or 
constitutional amendments, eliminating the option for petition groups 
to attempt rehabilitation of older signatures.

"Establishing reasonable time limits on when signatures can be 
collected helps ensure the issues that make the ballot are the ones 
that matter most to Michiganders," Snyder said in a statement.

State law had allowed committees to prove the validity of older 
signatures by verifying residents were registered to vote when they 
signed. A 1986 policy adopted by the Board of State Canvassers laid 
out a laborious process for doing so - collecting affidavits from 
each signer or local election clerk - that was never successfully completed.

MI Legalize had asked election officials to update the policy by 
allowing it to verify registration status using the state's Qualified 
Voter File database, a proposition the Board of Canvassers considered 
but did not approve.

In submitting petitions, Hank argued that voter registration records 
themselves satisfy the requirement for rehabilitating older 
signatures, saying voter registration forms constitute affidavits and 
acceptance by local clerks constitutes certification.

The MI Legalize filing included an affidavit from Alan Fox of 
Practical Political Consulting, who worked with the group to verify 
signatures, purporting that to "rebut" the presumption that the old 
signatures were stale and void.

"While there are issues with the accuracy of this interpretation, 
there is no need to consider Mr. Hank's proposition because the 
affidavit of Alan Fox fails to prove that any of the rebutted 
petition signatures were affixed by signers who were registered to 
vote at the time of signing," said the Bureau of Elections staff report.

A separate ballot committee seeking to ban hydraulic fracturing 
announced last week that it was suing the state, arguing the 180-day 
signature window violates the Michigan Constitution.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom