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Unlock Michigan petition likely heads to state Legislature after state Supreme Court ruling

person writing on paper
Recalls are not an easy thing to pull off

The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered the Board of State Canvassers to certify a petition that would repeal the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act.

That's the act Governor Gretchen Whitmer relied on to declare an extended state of emergency during the pandemic.

Fred Wszolek is a spokesman for Unlock Michigan, the group that gathered the petition signatures.

He said the court rightly told the Board of State Canvassers it didn't have the authority to investigate the manner in which a petition drive is conducted.

"And that when the Secretary of State tells them that there are enough signatures on one of these petitions, they really have no choice but to certify that decision," he said.

He said if the 1945 Act is repealed, there's still a 1976 law that gives the governor emergency powers for 28 days. 

After that, the governor must ask the Legislature to agree to extend the state of emergency.

"A legitimate emergency where we don't really know what's going on and somebody has to be in charge and make snap decisions, that makes sense," Wszolek said. "But after a month, she needs to govern according to the normal rules."

Opponents of the Unlock Michigan petition claimed illegal tactics were used to gather signatures.  

A group calling itself Keep Michigan Safe secretly recordeda petition trainer informing paid signature gatherers on ways in which they could collect signatures illegally or unethically.

Keep Michigan Safe also claimed people gathering signatures lied to voters about what the petition said.

The group plans to ask the Michigan Supreme Court to reconsider.

"The decision by the Michigan Supreme Court doesn’t just allow Unlock Michigan’s illegally gathered signatures to count but will allow every future ballot proposal campaign to collect signatures illegally,” said Chris Trebilcock, an attorney with Clark Hill PLC, and an attorney for Keep Michigan Safe.

“The door is now wide open for the upcoming Republican voter suppression ballot drive to engage in criminal activity to obtain signatures. We urge the court to reconsider its bare-bones decision and give the serious and far-reaching legal issues we raised careful consideration. I am not sure the dire consequences of this decision are appreciated,” he said.

Unlock Michigan spokesman Fred Wszolek called the decision to ask for reconsideration yet another stall tactic, and said he's considering asking the court to order the Keep Michigan Safe group to pay his group's legal costs, which he said amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If the petition is certified, it will then go to the state Legislature to adopt or reject. Wszolek said he thinks there is still time for that to happen before the Legislature goes on summer recess.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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