After the Board of State Canvassers did not advance the Unlock Michigan petition Thursday with members failing to certify on a 2-2, party-line vote, organizers are now signaling the Supreme Court will have to get involved.
The Bureau of Elections recommended the board certify the petition, as a staff report showed it had collected sufficient signatures, however the two Democrats on the board did not vote to certify and instead said that they wish for a further investigation.
Vice Chair Julie Matuzak made two motions: one to investigate the circulation of petitions and another to develop rules regarding the form and gathering of petitions, as well as the canvassing of signatures.
Both she and member Jeannette Bradshaw, the other Democrat, voted yes. Chair Norm Shinkle and Member Tony Daunt, both Republicans, voted no. The motions ultimately failed.
Attorney General Dana Nessel said Wednesday an investigation into Unlock Michigan petition circulators found insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges. However, she said there was some misrepresentation on the part of circulators, tactics the attorney general, a Democrat, called “sleazy”.
Ms. Matuzak thought the signatures and circulation of the petition may have involved illegal activity.
“Our job is to look at these signatures in light of any, frankly illegal gathering of signatures,” Ms. Matuzak said. “It’s an entirely different thing to violate the warnings and rules on the petition itself. Questions about observing the signature, questions about signing, and who can sign and who can’t sign.”
However, Ms. Matuzak said the standard for the attorney general’s office and the standard for the board are different. Although none of the “questionable signatures” were submitted, Ms. Matuzak is still concerned about the validity of the signatures and how they were gathered.
Ms. Bradshaw said petitions against governments should still follow the rules that are in place.
“We haven’t gone down this road, but to keep the integrity of citizens being able to petition their government, I feel it’s important that we do exercise that right to investigate,” she said.
Mr. Daunt said there must be a reason the board has never gone down the road of its own investigation, saying that it would be “potentially opening … a Pandora’s box for eternal delay tactics on things just because we may disagree with the content.”
Mr. Shinkle agreed with Mr. Daunt, adding that the process has already been ongoing for months and the group turned in enough signatures.
“If we delay this thing indefinitely – this motion is an indefinite delay – we might as well not exist,” Mr. Shinkle said. “Our job is to certify petitions, and how can we do that if we’ve already delayed it for six months, and delay it another six? We should follow the staff advice.”
Fred Wszolek, spokesperson for Unlock Michigan, said in a statement following the vote that the board failed to do its legal duty to certify the petition. He floated seeking court costs and sanctions against the Democratic members and said it will have to go to the Supreme Court.
“There is no doubt that Unlock MI submitted sufficient signatures to require certification. There is no doubt what the board’s clear legal duty was. Do we need to seek sanctions and court costs against individual canvassers to get them to start doing their legal duty? These rogue board members know the rules, yet they posture as being in favor of new rules,” he said. “What they really stand for the suppression of the voice of Michigan voters. Once again the Michigan Supreme Court will have to smack down these board members who refused to do their jobs.”
Keep Michigan Safe, the group opposing Unlock Michigan’s efforts, applauded the members of the board “who did the right thing.”
“Unlock Michigan made a mockery of the petition gathering effort and a mockery of our election process with their illegal and unscrupulous tactics and we applaud Board Members Matuzak and Bradshaw for safeguarding our democracy and standing up for the integrity of our election process,” Mark Fisk, group spokesperson, said in a statement.
Michigan Republican Party spokesperson Ted Goodman said both Ms. Matuzak and Ms. Bradshaw were Democratic “activists” who rejected the voice of more than 500,000 residents.
“The secretary of state reviewed the signatures and the attorney general announced that an investigation found no wrongdoing,” Mr. Goodman said in a statement. “The two Democrats on this commission want to block the will of the people to protect Whitmer.”
Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes called the petition illegal and unethical, despite the Elections Bureau recommending certification and the attorney general bringing forward no criminal charges.
“Julie Matuzak and Jeanette Bradshaw did the right thing by voting against certifying Unlock Michigan’s petitions and for demanding an independent investigation into the group’s illegal and unethical practices,” Ms. Barnes said in a statement. “From day one, Unlock Michigan has been a partisan Republican power grab spawned by Mike Shirkey to undermine and hamper Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s efforts to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unlock Michigan is seeking to repeal the 1945 law – which has been declared unconstitutional – Governor Gretchen Whitmer used to keep Michigan under a state of emergency during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The ultimate goal for organizers is for the GOP-led Legislature to pass the measure if the petition is certified, which would bypass Ms. Whitmer’s veto pen and avoid the issue going onto the 2022 ballot.
The group submitted about 540,000 signatures in October. After drawing a sample, the Bureau of Elections concluded there were 460,358 valid signatures. The effort only needed 340,047.
OTHER BUSINESS: The board also discussed the petition submitted by the Patriot Party to form a new political party, which was approved unanimously. To become an official political party, organizers must collect over 40,000 signatures within a 180-day period.
The Bureau of Elections also said it recently finished reviewing the Fair and Equal Michigan petition and they expect to release a sample within the next few weeks. There were 13,000 copies of electronic signatures, but the state is not including them in the sample. A previous lawsuit extended the time for Fair and Equal Michigan to gather signatures, but it did not state the bureau had to accept online signatures.