Dec 20, 2007

Ballot question petitions get the OK

LANSING - The Michigan State Board of Canvassers gave approval Wednesday to a pair of initiative petitions seeking to place questions on the November 2008 General Election ballot but rejected a third.

The petitions presented to the four-person partisan board previewed a crowded General Election ballot next November, and the petitions submitted call for the Legislature to pass laws to “ensure that every Michigan resident has affordable health care coverage,” a petition calling for a part-time legislature and a petition requiring a state-wide vote on every tax increase. The board also set the deadline to challenge signatures already collected to allow the use of medical marijuana on the ballot.

Erane Washington-Kendrick, the Democrat chair of the board, stressed that approval does not mean endorsement of the proposal; only that the petitions meet requirements of font size and form, and approval is simply a courtesy that means the petitions cannot be challenged later for improper form once the resources have been expended to collect signatures.

Petitions drives enacting legislation have become a part of the political scene in Michigan, and the proper collection of signatures has come under recent scrutiny by both the board and Michigan courts. In an unrelated discussion about giving the University of Michigan access to old ballots for a research project, Republican board member Lyn Bankes said fraud was used to gather signatures for Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) that was placed on the November 2006 ballot, but the courts never ruled on that fraud in allowing Proposal 2 to go on the ballot.

“Some of these (petitions) are so silly there will be paid signature gathers,” she said. “I can see fraud involved in that, and we are not equipped to handle that.”

The board gave approval to the petition submitted by Madison Heights-based Health Care for Michigan that would amend the state constitution to require the legislature to pass laws to ensure that “every Michigan resident has affordable and comprehensive health care coverage through a fair and cost-effective financing system.” Constitutional Amendments require the valid signatures of registered voters equal to 10 percent of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for governor in the last election, and that comes out to the signatures of 380,126 registered voters that must be collected by July 7, 2008.

The petition submitted by the Saginaw-based Part-Time Legislature Ballot Question Committee was also approved. It calls for a part-time legislature, calls for cutting the salaries of lawmakers from $79,650 to $40,000 a year with a 1 percent deduction for each day absent; eliminates post service pensions, retirement benefits, medical or life insurance; set the legislative session from March to July; limits special sessions to just 20 days per year and requires the governor to submit a budget within the first three days of session.

The same group calling itself the People's Choice Tax Repeal Committee had its petition rejected. The board said the petition was too wordy and hard to understand. However, that does not mean the signature collecting cannot go forward, but the petitions would be easier to challenge and throw out later on.

“That’s a lot of verbage to read even if it meets the 8-point (font size) requirement,” said Shelly Edgerton, the Republican Vice-Chair of the board.

The petition would amend the state constitution to mandate an election if the legislature creates a new tax, continues a tax, reduces a tax deduction or tax credit or increased the effective rate or base of tax.

The board also set the deadline to challenge signatures already collected by Citizens for Compassionate Care to allow the use of medical marijuana. The deadline is 10 days after a sample of 500 names is drawn, and the board expects the drawing of the representative sample to take place about mid-January. The committee has already submitted about 475,000 petition signatures to put the issue on the ballot. Because it is an initiative and not a constitutional amendment, only 8 percent of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for governor must be collected, which comes out to 304,101 signatures of registered voters.

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