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Politics & Government

Election audit, minimum wage, abortion rights petitions move toward signature-gathering

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The Michigan Board of State Canvassers on Wednesday approved the summary language that could appear atop a trio of petitions.

The petitions would raise Michigan’s minimum wage, constitutionally protect abortion rights, and create a new board to review Michigan elections—including the November 2020 presidential vote.

During the nearly 6-hour meeting, debate over summary language became tense. Board member Tony Daunt described the effort to once again audit the 2020 general election an "absurd topic.”

A series of election audits have already found no evidence of widespread fraud in that vote, which Democratic candidate Joe Biden won over Republican nominee Donald Trump by more than 150,000 votes statewide.

Jon Rocha is with the group “Audit Michigan.” He said his petition’s goal was to clarify the state’s election audit process.

“Regardless of your political sway, if we have a lot of gray area and ambiguous law, without a lot of black and white, especially if we’re supposed to be a nation of laws, it allows lawyers and judges to be able to interpret it any way they that they seem fit,” Rocha said.

He said the campaign hopes to submit the petition form itself to the board next week.

Receiving board approval on a summary or petition form are not required steps to begin signature collection, but organizations often seek them as a way of shielding efforts against potential lawsuits. The board decides on summary text in an effort to ensure that the summary is an accurate and impartial synopsis of the petitions' contents.

Bonsitu Kitaba is the executive legal director with the ACLU of Michigan, which is pursuing the reproductive rights petition. She said her coalition is agreeable to the board’s compromises with the petition summary.

“We’re going to have to take this summary back to the coalition, Reproductive Freedom For All, and conduct some more due diligence and start planning for signature gathering and collection,” Kitaba said.

Discussion during the meeting sparked tense debate over whether the term “reproductive freedom” in the summary would be too biased toward the petition. Opponents to using the term felt the petition summary language should also mention the myriad pre-existing state anti-abortion laws and policies that would be changing if the amendment were to pass.

Former Democratic Party chair Mark Brewer is advising both the Reproductive Freedom for All coalition and the effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, Raise the Wage. He said the campaigns will wait on a state Supreme Court decision regarding petition form requirements before moving forward.

“I think this will be a very popular proposal that people will be eager to sign, but I hope the court makes a decision soon so that we all have the guidance we need,” Brewer said.

At issue in the court case is whether petition forms need to include a checkbox marking whether a signature collector is being paid. It’s unclear when a ruling is due.

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