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Group argues typos in abortion rights petition should keep it off the ballot

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A proposed constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights in Michigan is facing scrutiny over alleged typos in its petition language.

The group “Citizens to Support MI Women and Children” claims there are 43 spots where words are missing spaces in between them.

The story was first reported by The Detroit News.

Spokesperson Christen Pollo said the errors make some of the language unreadable.

"One of the words is 107 characters long. Another is 108 characters long. It’s incomprehensible. These aren’t words that are defined in the English language," Pollo said.

Despite the alleged errors, the group behind the petition, Reproductive Freedom for All, said it’s not worried.

“We’re confident that we’re in compliance with all the legal requirements for ballot proposals and we’re very proud of the fact that hundreds of thousands of Michiganders read, understood and signed the petition in support of Reproductive Freedom for All,” spokesperson Darci McConnell said.

The version of the petition available online at the independent Board of State Canvassers' website appears to show the typos. They appear in a proposed new section to Article I of the Michigan Constitution, titled “RIGHT TO REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM.”

Pollo claims the apparent typos submitted to the Michigan Department of State on March 30 don’t align with the form the Board of State Canvassers gave conditional approval to at its March 23 meeting.

“That was not approved by the Board of [State] Canvassers. They hadn’t seen that. In fact, no one saw those. It was not on the form that was filed and approved on March 23. But it was what went out into the field,” Pollo said.

Form approval is not a required step to gather signatures, but does help shield campaigns from potential lawsuits over whether its language is misleading.

The petition had gone through a few changes by its final printing.

An issue over a union logo opponents said included a font that was too big stalled conditional form approval at a previous meeting. Then, on March 23, Reproductive Freedom for All agreed to remove a previously missed typo — an extra “the”— from its petition before gathering signatures.

Jeff Kause is a pre-press manager at Inland Press. He has experience printing petitions for various campaigns.

He said, in his experience, computer programs can sometimes lead to formatting errors. That can extend to fixing small errors too.

“Sometimes when you are looking at it a lot, you don’t notice things. How many times have you published something and there’s a misspelling in it that you didn’t see? It happens. Unfortunately, this is a pretty big uh oh,” Kause said.

The discovery comes during a period where opposing groups can issue challenges to the Reproductive Freedom for All petition.

An instructional packet from the Secretary of State outlines two main challenges that are possible.

Bureau of Elections staff said Reproductive Freedom for All collected over 735,000 facially valid signatures. From that, it randomly pulled a 514-signature sample to review.

Groups can challenge the validity of those signatures.

They can also challenge the form itself.

“A challenge alleging that the form of the petition does not comply with all legal requirements must describe the alleged defect.”

The Board of State Canvassers, evenly split between two Democratic and Republican members, plans to determine whether the proposal qualifies for the ballot at a meeting planned for August 31.

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