Friday, May 4, 2012

Emergency Manager Law initiative may not be close enough

The Michigan Board of Canvassers was deadlocked on the approval of a citizen’s initiative petition asking for a popular vote on the emergency manager law.  This is one of those situations where you need a score card to keep up on the game.  Yes, it is a game, one that isn’t being played very well by any of the players.

A group that would like the emergency manager law to go away submitted petitions to have the issue placed on the November ballot in Michigan.  The board of canvassers for the state has the task of certifying the submitted petitions.  The board is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans.  They found that there were more than enough signatures according to the law to approve it for the ballot.  But, the board split on the size of the type on the top of the petition.  The two Republicans said the font size was too small, the two Democrats said something like, “close enough.”

The Constitution of the State of Michigan insures that citizens will have input on state affairs with an initiative.  The state law that governs citizen’s initiatives says that the font size on the headline of the petition must be 14 point type.  (MICHIGAN ELECTION LAW (EXCERPT), Act 116 of 1954, 168.482 Petitions; size; form; contents.)  It is understood that the large font size on the header is an attempt to prevent the head line from being unreadable, meaning that the signer would need to rely on the petitioner for an explanation of the ballot proposal.  This in the past has been problem when petitioners don’t properly represent the meaning of the proposal.

A spokesman for the company that printed the petitions says that the headline is in a 14 point font.  But he could be in trouble if he printed the wrong font size.  What the groups should have done is ask for an approval from the board of canvassers in advance of the actual collection of signatures. 

The committee has promised they will take it to court.  This is where this type of issue should be in the first place.  The members of the board of canvassers should be non-partisan.  But, according the Michigan Constitution, it is to have four members and no party is to have a majority.  To leave a decision about a ballot issue with a partisan committee is to know that there will be trouble.  One party or the other, for political reasons, is not going to want the initiative to get through the board.  The objecting party will place tremendous pressure on their party’s board members to find a reason to not pass the initiative. 
The court could rule that the size of the font is indeed, “close enough”.  The requirement to have a certain font size could be determined to be an unreasonable restraint to an initiative.  They have ruled in the past that way with the timing of petition submissions.

But for now, the law is the law.  Close enough is not close enough since there is a specific requirement in the initiative law for the size of the font.  If the court doesn’t decide to let the initiative on the November ballot, the group will have to start over for the next election cycle. 
Let’s hope they do a better job next time.


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