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Board of State Canvassers fails to reapprove petition forms amid debate

Petition gatherer holding a pen and clipboard speaks to another person
kamchefelix
/
Pixabay

A deadlocked Board of State Canvassers stood its ground at a meeting Monday in the face of a pending Michigan Supreme Court decision.

The state Supreme Court could rule all petition forms need to include a checkbox indicating whether a signature gatherer is being paid.

But the Board of State Canvassers has already approved the forms for petitions from the groups Secure MI Vote and Unlock Michigan that do not include that box.

Board member Julie Matuzak says the signatures gathered now should count if the board approved a form based on the law at the time.

“We have a checkbox, we don’t have a checkbox. The rule seems to be changing all the time. And that’s fine but the process of people initiating legislation is important and it’s ongoing,” Matuzak said.

The split board did not approve updated versions of those petition forms as circulators asked.

Fred Wszolek represents those campaigns. He said the issue has caused a headache for his clients.

“We’re agnostic as to which form that we use. We just want to be in compliance as best we can. They won’t let us use new ones so they’ll have to stand behind us as we submit the old ones,” Wszolek said.

The board has submitted an amicus curiae brief with the court asking any ruling only apply to future petitions.

Mark Brewer is an attorney litigating that case. He said circulators knew the risks when they first submitted forms without the checkboxes for approval.

“This board has always approved forms based on the law as it exists at that meeting. And the board did the right thing because if the law changes, you should come back and get another form approved,” Brewer said.

Board approval is not necessary to gather signatures, but it helps shield drives against future lawsuits claiming the petition language was misleading.

Meanwhile, the Board of State Canvassers today also approved summary language for a pair of petitions that would create so-called “Student Opportunity Scholarships.”

The program would create tax incentive-funded scholarships that qualifying families could use on education-related expenses—like private school tuition.

The group Let MI Kids Learn submitted two versions of the forms for approval as well, one with the checkbox and one without. The board only approved the version that included the checkbox.

Wszolek, who also works with that campaign, said he expects canvassing to begin soon.

“We’ll be out on the streets in a week or two with the new petitions and happy to start collecting signatures,” Wszolek said.

The governor vetoed a pair of GOP-backed bills containing similar language earlier this month.

If the petition campaign gathers 340,047 signatures, lawmakers could bypass the governor’s signature and adopt the effort into law.

Critics say the effort violates the state constitution’s ban on using public money for private education.

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