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Ryan Byrne

Ryan Byrne is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

How will Maine Question 1 stack up to prior measures in terms of cost-per-vote?

Maine Question 1, a citizen-initiated measure designed to prohibit the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), could see one of the highest cost-per-vote ratios for a ballot measure that Ballotpedia has recorded. The most recent campaign finance reports, which cover through Sept. 30, show that more than $71.82 million has been raised between supporters and opponents of Question 1. With Maine’s population of 1.36 million residents, contributions received were equivalent to $52.71 per resident.

For comparison, California Proposition 22, passed in 2020, is the most expensive ballot measure on record. Over $224.25 million was raised for and against Proposition 22, which was about $5.67 per California resident. At the election, 16.99 million people voted on Proposition 22, giving it a cost-per-vote ratio of $13.11 per vote. Alaska Ballot Measure 1, which would have increased taxes on oil production fields, had the highest cost-per-vote in 2020 at $64.64 per vote.

In Maine, turnout at odd-year referendum elections varied between 17 and 34 percent over the three prior election cycles. With about 1.14 million registered voters, based on the last published count in 2020, turnout would be between 203,000 and 380,000 voters based on the prior cycles. That would lead to a $189 to $353-per-vote projection for Maine Question 1. Maine turnout could exceed the three prior cycles, and Question 1 campaigns could still yet receive an influx of contributions. 

Ballotpedia has been conducting a cost-per-vote analysis for ballot measures since 2018. Three of the five top measures addressed policies related to energy. Since then, the following are the top five measures in terms of cost-per-vote:

Nevada Question 3 (2018) had a cost-per-vote of $100.85. Question 3 was defeated. It would have required the state legislature to pass laws to establish “an open, competitive retail electric energy market” and prohibited the state from granting electrical-generation monopolies.

Alaska Ballot Measure 1 (2020) had a cost-per-vote of $64.64. Measure 1 was defeated. It would have increased taxes on at least three oil production fields.

Montana I-185 (2018) had a cost-per-vote of $51.30. Initiative 185 was defeated. It would have increased the tobacco tax to fund Medicaid expansion.

Ohio Issue 2 (2017) had a cost-per vote of $37.79. Issue 2 was defeated. It would have required state agencies and programs to purchase prescription drugs at prices no higher than what the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pays for them.

Arizona Proposition 127 (2018) had a cost-per vote of $23.80. It was defeated. Proposition 127 would have required electric utilities in Arizona to acquire a certain percentage of electricity from renewable resources each year, with the percentage increasing annually from 12 percent in 2020 to 50 percent in 2030.

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Maine Question 1, transmission lines initiative, sees $71.82 million in contributions

The support and opposition campaigns of Maine Question 1, which voters will decide on Nov. 2, 2021, have raised a combined total of $71.82 million in contributions through Sept. 30. The next deadline to report contributions and expenditures is Oct. 22.

Maine Question 1 would prohibit the construction of electric transmission lines defined as high-impact in the Upper Kennebec Region, including the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC). The citizen-initiated ballot measure would also require a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber to approve high-impact electric transmission line projects.

Question 1 was designed to stop the NECEC, a 145-mile long, high-voltage transmission line project that would transmit around 1,200 megawatts from hydroelectric plants in Quebec to electric utilities in Massachusetts and Maine. Construction of the NECEC began after the project received a presidential permit on Jan. 15, 2021. The ballot initiative would prohibit the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region, retroactive to Sept. 16, 2020, thus prohibiting Segment 1 of the NECEC.

No CMP Corridor is leading the campaign in support of Question 1. The PAC Mainers for Local Power is also registered to support the ballot initiative. Together, the PACs had raised $16.64 million, including

  • $13.67 million from NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Cumberland, Maine, and six solar fields or projects in southern and central Maine;
  • $1.41 million from Vistra Energy Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Veazie, Maine; and
  • $1.25 million from Calpine Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Westbrook, Maine.

The PACs Clean Energy Matters, Hydro-Québec Maine Partnership, Vote No to Protect Maine, and Mainers for Fair Laws are registered to oppose the ballot initiative. Together, the PACs had raised $55.18 million, including

  • $39.28 million from Central Maine Power (CMP), NECEC Transmission LLC, and the companies’ parent firm Avangrid; and
  • $13.53 million from H.Q. Energy Services (U.S.) Inc., which is a subsidiary of Hydro-Québec.

Based on the 2020 Census, the state’s population is 1.36 million. With $71.82 million in contributions, an equivalent of $52.71 had been raised per state resident. According to the Bangor Daily News, Question 1 is the second most expensive political election in Maine history, only following the 2020 U.S. Senate race. 

Maine Question 1 is the most expensive ballot measure of 2021 thus far. The second most expensive is Colorado Proposition 119, for which supporters and opponents have raised $1.36 million in contributions.

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Signatures filed for veto referendums to repeal Arizona income tax bills

The campaign Invest in Arizona filed signatures on Sept. 28, 2021, for two veto referendums aimed at overturning bills designed to change income tax brackets and small business income taxes in Arizona. Both of the bills would impact tax revenue associated with Proposition 208, an initiative passed in 2020. Proposition 208 enacted a 3.5% income tax surcharge, in addition to the existing income tax (4.5% in 2020), on income above $250,000 (single filing) or $500,000 (joint filing). 

One of the targeted bills, Senate Bill 1828, would reduce the state’s income tax brackets from four to two and further reduce the tax brackets to a flat rate when state revenue exceeds $12.976 billion. The other bill, Senate Bill 1783, would replace the individual income tax that certain small business owners file with a new small business income tax.

With signatures filed for the veto referendums, both of the bills are suspended until the secretary of state determines if enough signatures are valid to qualify the measures for the ballot. If enough signatures are found to be valid, the targeted bill would remain suspended until voters decide the issue at the November 2022 general election. If not enough valid signatures were filed, the targeted bill would go into effect. 

More signatures were filed for the referendum against SB 1828 than SB 1783. Invest in Arizona reported filing more than 215,000 signatures for the SB 1828 referendum. It reported filing about 123,500 signatures for the SB 1783 referendum. At least 118,823 signatures need to be valid.

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Associated, said, “Today’s filing is an effort to stop another one of the Governor’s reckless attempts to hand out money to the wealthy while disregarding the will of [Arizona] voters or the impact on our public schools.” Scot Mussi, president of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, responded, “The teachers union and an out of state interest group hired hundreds of paid circulators to go around the state lying to Arizona voters about the tax cuts passed by the state legislature.”

Invest in Arizona filed a veto referendum against a third bill, Senate Bill 1827, but it did not collect enough signatures for that proposal. SB 1827 was designed to cap the maximum combined individual income tax rate at 4.5%.

The Arizona Legislature passed all three of the bills in June 2021, and Gov. Doug Ducey (D) signed them. Votes were along party lines, with Republicans supporting the bills and Democrats opposing them.

Arizonans last voted on a veto referendum in 2018, when a majority voted to repeal a bill expanding the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) program to make all public school students eligible to apply for an ESA. Since Arizona adopted a referendum process in 1911, voters have decided 35 veto referendums. Voters upheld 19 bills and rejected 16 bills. 

Additional reading:



District judge rules against ballot initiative to replace Minneapolis Police Department; Supreme Court will hear appeal

Voters in Minneapolis will see a citizen-initiated charter amendment on their ballots to replace the Minneapolis Police Department. On Sept. 14, however, District Court Judge Jamie Anderson ruled that the ballot question for the proposal was unreasonable and misleading and enjoined election officials from counting votes on Nov. 2. On Sept. 15, the Minnesota Supreme Court, which would have final jurisdiction, agreed to hear an appeal.

Judge Anderson has ruled on the ballot language on three occasions. On Aug. 13, Anderson ruled against the Minneapolis City Council for including a statement summarizing the ballot measure that “[waded] into a grey area of explanation that is not allowed.” On Sept. 7, Anderson struck down a ballot question as “vague to the point of being misleading” and said that “ambiguities risk creating a ‘chaotic situation’ in Minneapolis.” The Minneapolis City Council approved a different, longer ballot question in response to the judge’s order. On Sept. 14, Anderson struck down the new council-approved ballot question. As ballots went to print on Sept. 7, the Minneapolis City Council cannot again change the question on the November ballot. The previous two cases were not appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court. 

The ballot initiative followed the Minneapolis City Council’s attempt to craft an ordinance replacing the MPD following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed Floyd, was charged and sentenced for murder and manslaughter. The Minneapolis City Council approved legislation for a ballot in 2020, but, on Aug. 5, 2020, the city’s charter commission voted 10-5 to take an additional 90 days to evaluate the proposal and not send the proposal back to the City Council, blocking the measure from appearing on the ballot in 2020. 

In 2021, the campaign Yes 4 Minneapolis launched a ballot initiative campaign to replace the MPD. Kandace Montgomery, director of Black Visions Collective, is the board chairperson of Yes 4 Minneapolis, and JaNaé Bates, a theologian and communications director of ISAIAH, is the campaign’s communications director. Through the most recent report filing deadline on July 27, 2021, Yes 4 Minneapolis had received $1.48 million, including $500,000 from Open Society Policy Center and $430,383 from MoveOn.

The ballot initiative has the support of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-5) and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D). Opponents include U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D), U.S. Rep. Angie Craig (D-2), Gov. Tim Walz (D), and Mayor Jacob Frey (D). A campaign called All of Mpls is opposing the proposal. Through July 27, All of Mpls raised $109,465. 

The ballot initiative is one of three policing-related local measures on the ballot for Nov. 2, 2021, that Ballotpedia is covering. The others are a ballot initiative in Austin, Texas, to require a minimum number of police officers; and a ballot initiative in Cleveland, Ohio, to create a commission to oversee police misconduct investigations and discipline.



Minneapolis City Council approves new ballot question for initiative to replace Minneapolis Police Department 

On Sept. 7, the Minneapolis City Council held an emergency meeting to adopt language for a citizen-initiated measure to replace the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) with a Department of Public Safety (DPS). The 12-1 vote came hours after District Court Judge Jamie Anderson struck down the then-existing language as “vague to the point of being misleading.” Sept. 7 was also the deadline for the ballot to be finalized for printing ahead of the election on Nov. 2, 2021. 

The language that Judge Anderson enjoined was a 47-word question. The new language includes a 110-word question and an additional 73-word statement addressing several topics not mentioned in the prior version, including:

  • the DPS employing a “comprehensive public health approach,” with functions determined via ordinance;
  • the mayor and council, rather than just the mayor, being involved in maintaining and commanding the department; and
  • the elimination of the police chief and police minimum funding requirement from the city’s charter.

The City Council also changed the phrase strike and replace the MPD with a DPS to remove and replace the MPD with a DPS. Both versions state that the DPS would include licensed police officers should officers be considered necessary.

Judge Anderson said that ambiguities in the prior ballot question “risk creating a ‘chaotic situation’ in Minneapolis.” There were three issues, in particular, that Judge Anderson said were ambiguous: (1) whether the Minneapolis Police Department will cease to exist as of Dec. 2, 2021; (2) whether the position of police chief would be eliminated; and (3) whether a funding mechanism would exist for the new Department of Public Safety.

The citizen-initiated ballot measure followed the Minneapolis City Council’s attempt to craft an ordinance replacing the MPD following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed Floyd, was charged and sentenced for murder and manslaughter. The Minneapolis City Council approved legislation for a ballot in 2020, but, on Aug. 5, 2020, the city’s charter commission voted 10-5 to take an additional 90 days to evaluate the proposal and not send the proposal back to the City Council, blocking the measure from appearing on the ballot in 2020. 

In 2021, the campaign Yes 4 Minneapolis launched a ballot initiative to replace the MPD. Kandace Montgomery, director of Black Visions Collective, is the board chairperson of Yes 4 Minneapolis, and JaNaé Bates, a theologian and communications director of ISAIAH, is the campaign’s communications director. Through July 27, 2021, Yes 4 Minneapolis had received $1.48 million, including $500,000 from Open Society Policy Center and $430,383 from MoveOn.

The ballot initiative has the support of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-5) and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D). Opponents include U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D), U.S. Rep. Angie Craig (D-2), Gov. Tim Walz (D), and Mayor Jacob Frey (D). A campaign called All of Mpls is opposing the proposal. Through July 27, All of Mpls raised $109,465. 

The ballot initiative is one of three policing-related local measures on the ballot for Nov. 2, 2021, that Ballotpedia is covering. The others include a ballot initiative in Austin, Texas, to require a minimum number of police officers; and a ballot initiative in Cleveland, Ohio, to create a commission to oversee police misconduct investigations and discipline.

Additional reading:



Judge rules that permitting process for one mile of transmission line corridor in Maine violated 1993 constitutional amendment

On Aug. 10, Judge Michaela Murphy of the Maine Superior Court vacated a lease for the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) to bisect one mile of public land in northern Maine. NECEC is a 145-mile long, high-voltage transmission line project that would transmit around 1,200 megawatts from hydroelectric plants in Quebec to electric utilities in Massachusetts and Maine. The state Department of Environmental Protection suspended the firm’s lease of the one mile of land through West Forks Plantation and Johnson Mountain Township.

The permitting process for the public lands violated a constitutional amendment passed in 1993, according to Judge Murphy. The constitutional amendment, known as Question 5, required a two-thirds vote of the legislature to reduce or substantially change the uses of state park, conservation, or recreation land. Whether or not public land is reduced or substantially altered is determined by the Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL). Judge Murphy stated that BPL did not present evidence that a “finding of no ‘reduction’ and/or no ‘substantial alteration'” was made during the permitting process. 

NECEC, Inc. could appeal the superior court’s decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, seek approval to reroute the project, or enter into a new lease for the public lands (which could end up requiring legislative approval depending on the BPL’s assessment). As of Aug. 13, NECEC, Inc. had not announced how the project was expected to move forward.

While the ruling relied on a 1993 constitutional amendment, NECEC is also facing a citizen-initiated measure on this year’s November ballot. Question 1 was designed to stop the NECEC. The ballot initiative would prohibit the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region, retroactive to Sept. 16, 2020, thus prohibiting a segment of NECEC. The ballot initiative would also require a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber to approve high-impact electric transmission lines. Question 1 would define high-impact electric transmission lines as those that are (a) 50 miles in length or more, (b) outside of a statutory corridor or petitioned corridor, (c) not a generator interconnection transmission facility, or (d) not constructed to primarily provide electric reliability.

Maine Sen. Russell Black (R-17) was the lead plaintiff before the superior court. He is also a supporter of the ballot initiative. Sen. Black responded to the ruling, “Even though it’s a small parcel of land it’s in the middle of the corridor and will keep the corridor from being connected. It’s (going to) put a gap in the corridor and I believe because of that gap and no legal permit they have to stop the process and get this corrected.”

The companies involved in the NECEC project raised $36.99 million to oppose the ballot initiative through June 30, 2021. Central Maine Power, NECEC Transmission LLC, and the companies’ parent firm Avangrid provided $27.12 million. H.Q. Energy Services (U.S.) Inc., which is a subsidiary of Hydro-Québec, provided $8.58 million. Hydro-Québec owns the hydroelectric plants that would produce the energy carried by the NECEC. 

Supporters of the ballot initiative raised $9.46 million through June 30, with $6.67 million from NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Cumberland, Maine, and six solar fields or projects in southern and central Maine. Vistra Energy Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Veazie, Maine, provided $1.27 million. Calpine Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Westbrook, Maine, provided $1.23 million.

Question 1 is one of three measures on the November 2021 ballot in Maine. The others are a constitutional amendment to declare a right to produce, harvest, and consume food and a $100 million bond issue for transportation projects. 

Additional reading:



Initiative to repeal Michigan law granting governor emergency powers heads to state legislature

The Michigan State Legislature approved the indirect initiative that repealed the Emergency Powers of Governor Act. On July 15, 2021, the Michigan State Senate voted 20-15 to approve the initiated measure. Senate Republicans voted to pass the initiated measure, and Senate Democrats voted against the proposal. On July 21, 2021, the Michigan House of Representatives voted 60-48 to approve the initiated measure. House Republicans, along with four House Democrats, supported the proposal. The remaining 48 House Democrats opposed the initiated measure. The governor cannot veto the legislature’s approval of an indirect citizen-initiated measure.



California initiative requiring state to adopt regulations on plastic waste certified for 2022 ballot

California initiative requiring state to adopt regulations on plastic waste certified for 2022 ballot

News

On July 19, a citizen-initiated measure to require California to adopt regulations designed to reduce the use of single-use plastic packaging was certified for the ballot on November 8, 2022. The ballot initiative would also enact a maximum one-cent per item fee on single-use plastic packaging and foodware, with revenue from the fee distributed to CalRecycle, the California Natural Resources Agency, and local governments. 

The California Department of Resources, Recycling, and Recovery (CalRecycle) would be responsible for implementing the regulations, including:

  1. requiring producers to ensure that single-use plastic packaging and foodware is recyclable, reusable, refillable, or compostable by 2030;
  2. requiring producers to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic packaging or foodware that CalRecycle determines is unnecessary for product or food item delivery;
  3. requiring producers to reduce the amount of single-use plastic packaging and foodware sold in California by at least 25 percent by 2030; and
  4. prohibiting food vendors from distributing expanded polystyrene food service containers.

Clean Coasts, Clean Water, Clean Streets, also known as Plastics Free California, is leading the campaign in support of the ballot initiative. Through March 31, 2021, the campaign has raised $4.19 million. Recology, Inc. was the largest contributor, providing $3.76 million. Recology, Inc. is a business that provides commercial and residential waste, recycling, and composting services. Linda Escalante, action fund advisor for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “Plastics Free California is an opportunity to increase pressure on the plastics industry to rein in the harmful environmental impacts of their single-use products, and to rebuild and support California’s recycling system.” As of July 20, Ballotpedia has not identified a campaign opposing the ballot initiative.

The campaign filed the ballot initiative in November 2019 and originally intended to place the proposal on the 2020 ballot. Eric Potashner, vice president of Recology, said the campaign had collected more than 800,000 signatures for the ballot initiative before the suggested deadline of April 21, 2020, but wanted to collect between 900,000 to 950,000. Citing the coronavirus pandemic, Potashner said, “Even if I had a million signatures, I don’t know if we’d be submitting this thing till after June anyway. I don’t know if this is the right climate for this measure right now.” Potashner also noted that the ballot initiative’s provisions would not take effect until 2030, “so pushing this issue… to 2022 doesn’t have any practical implications in what we’re trying to do.” 

On August 11, 2020, the campaign filed 871,940 signatures. Counties were not required to report the number of valid signatures according to the random sample until March 9, 2021, due to a coronavirus-related executive order. On March 9, the random sample of signatures did not project that 110% or more of the signatures were valid. Therefore, a full check of the signatures was required. The deadline for completing the full check was set as April 22, 2021, but was later extended to July 19, 2021. The full count of signatures showed that 666,664 signatures were valid, exceeding the requirement of 623,212.

The ballot initiative is the fourth citizen-initiated measure certified for the ballot in California for 2022. Others include an initiative to legalize sports betting at American Indian gaming casinos and licensed racetracks in California; an initiative to increase the cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits; and a veto referendum to repeal the ban on flavored tobacco sales. The signature verification deadline for the 2022 ballot is 131 days before the general election, which is around June 30, 2022.

Additional Reading:

California 2022 ballot propositions



Contributions exceed $46 million to campaigns surrounding Maine electric transmission lines initiative

In November, voters in Maine will decide a ballot initiative designed to stop the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), a 145-mile long, high-voltage transmission line project. NECEC would transmit around 1,200 megawatts from hydroelectric plants in Quebec to electric utilities in Massachusetts and Maine.

Since 2010, Ballotpedia has tracked campaign finance for ballot measures in Maine, and the transmission lines ballot initiative is the most expensive since then. Supporters and opponents of the initiative have raised more than $46 million raised June 30, 2021.

The second most expensive initiative was Question 1 (2017), an initiative to authorize slot machines or a casino in York County, Maine, which saw $10.16 million in contributions through the entire election cycle. In June 2017, the combined campaign contributions surrounding Question 1 were at $4.41 million—less than half of the final aggregate contributions. The next campaign finance deadline for the campaigns surrounding the transmission lines initiative is October 5, 2021.

The NECEC was proposed in response to Massachusetts soliciting for 9.45 million hydropower-derived megawatts in 2016. Hydro-Québec, a government-owned firm in Quebec, and Central Maine Power (CMP) submitted a joint proposal to deliver hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts through Maine. Segment 1 of the NECEC required a new 53-mile corridor from the border with Quebec to The Forks, Maine, which began construction on May 13, 2021. Other segments were planned to use existing transmission line corridors. 

Maine, in exchange for entering into a stipulation agreement for the project, was set to receive a benefits package worth $258 million, which included funds for low-income electric consumer projects, rural broadband internet, electric vehicle charging stations, electric heat pumps, education grants, workforce development, and business retention. Maine also secured 500 megawatt (MWh) hours per year from hydroelectric plants via NECEC. 

Former Sen. Thomas Saviello (R-17), a member of the campaign No CMP Corridor, filed the ballot initiative in October 2020. He said, “Mainers know they’re being lied to by these two foreign corporations, and they know that this project will forever change our state’s character, environment and economy in ways that will not benefit us.” Besides aiming to halt the NECEC, the ballot initiative would prohibit the construction of electric transmission lines defined as high-impact in the Upper Kennebec Region, such as the NECEC, and require a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber to approve high-impact electric transmission line projects. The ballot initiative would define high-impact electric transmission lines as those that are (a) 50 miles in length or more, (b) outside of a statutory corridor or petitioned corridor, (c) not a generator interconnection transmission facility, or (d) not constructed to primarily provide electric reliability.

No CMP Corridor, together with the Mainers for Local Power PAC, raised $9.46 million, including $6.67 million from NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Cumberland, Maine, and six solar fields or projects in southern and central Maine; $1.27 million from Vistra Energy Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Veazie, Maine; and $1.23 million from Calpine Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Westbrook, Maine.

Clean Energy Matters is leading the campaign in opposition to the ballot initiative. Jon Breed, executive director of Clean Energy Matters, stated, “It’s bad public policy and sets a bad precedent for our state if we take a project that has cleared every major regulatory milestone at the state and federal level, and then turn around and pull permits.” The PAC Hydro-Québec Maine Partnership is also registered to oppose the ballot initiative. Together, the PACs had raised $36.99 million, including $27.12 million from Central Maine Power (CMP), NECEC Transmission LLC, and the companies’ parent firm Avangrid; and $8.58 million from H.Q. Energy Services (U.S.) Inc., which is a subsidiary of Hydro-Québec.

The Maine State Legislature passed a bill in June 2021 that could have impacted Hydro-Québec’s abilities to make contributions. LD 194 was designed to prohibit corporations and other entities that are at least 10% owned by a foreign government from making contributions or expenditures for or against a citizen-initiated ballot measure. Gov. Janet Mills (D) vetoed the legislation, saying, “Government is rarely justified in restricting the kind of information to which the citizenry should have access in the context of an election, and particularly a ballot initiative.”

Related:



Initiative to repeal Michigan law granting governor emergency powers heads to state legislature

The Michigan State Legislature will have 40 days to approve an initiated measure to repeal the Emergency Powers of Governor Act (EPGA), also known as Public Act 302 (PA 302) of 1945. The EPGA was designed to empower the governor to issue rules and regulations to bring emergencies under control and protect life and allow violations of these rules and regulations to be punished as misdemeanors. The initiated measure is an indirect initiative, meaning the legislature can approve the initiative, without the governor’s signature needed, or have the initiative go before voters at the election on November 8, 2022. Republicans control both chambers of the Michigan State Legislature, and simple majorities are needed in each chamber to pass the initiative.

In June 2020, about three months after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) issued the first coronavirus-related disaster declaration, the campaign Unlock Michigan filed the proposal. On October 2, 2020, the campaign reported submitting 539,000 signatures. Also on October 2, the Michigan Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, struck down the EPGA as violating the state constitution. While the Supreme Court rendered the EPGA moot, Unlock Michigan continued to advocate for the law’s repeal to prevent the court from issuing a different opinion on the law in the future. On April 19, 2021, elections staff reported that, based on a random sample, a projected 460,358 signatures were valid. The minimum number of required signatures was 340,047.

On April 22, 2021, the Board of State Canvassers voted 2-2 on certifying the petition as sufficient. The divided vote meant that the motion failed. The Board’s two Republicans voted in favor, and the Board’s two Democrats voted in opposition. On June 11, 2021, the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Board “has a clear legal duty to certify the petition,” which the Board did on July 13, 2021.

Fred Wszolek, spokesperson for Unlock Michigan, responded to the initiative’s certification, saying, “We’re looking forward to the next and final step on this long road: passage by the Michigan House and Senate of our initiative to repeal this law so abused by Gov. Whitmer.” Mark Fisk, spokesperson for the opposition campaign Keep Michigan Safe, also responded, “Unlock Michigan’s brazen partisan power grab will further reduce our state’s ability to save lives during public health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic and handcuff future generations of leaders from acting decisively in times of crises.”

The campaign Unlock Michigan received $2.81 million through April 20, 2021. Donors included the nonprofits Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility ($1.78 million) and Michigan! My Michigan! ($450,000), as well as University of Michigan Regent Ron Weiser ($100,000). Opponents of the proposal organized Keep Michigan Safe, which received $843,180, including $750,000 from the nonprofit organization Road To Michigan’s Future.

On July 13, the Board of State Canvassers also approved language for Unlock Michigan’s second ballot initiative, allowing the campaign to begin a signature drive. After the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the EPGA, Gov. Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health were able to continue emergency regulations under Public Health Code. Unlock Michigan’s new proposal would limit state and local epidemic emergency orders to 28 days unless the jurisdiction’s legislative body approves a resolution to continue the emergency order. 

In May, Pennsylvania became the first state to vote on a governor’s emergency powers following coronavirus-related regulations. Voters approved two constitutional amendments allowing the legislature to extend or terminate the governor’s emergency declaration by a simple majority vote and limiting the governor’s emergency declaration to 21 days. 

Additional reading:

Ballot measures in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and coronavirus-related regulations

Michigan Limits on Epidemic Emergency Orders Initiative (2022)

Michigan 2022 ballot measures