Stories about Michigan

The League of Women Voters of Michigan sues Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) over implementation of Proposal 3’s absentee ballot provision

The League of Women Voters of Michigan sues Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) over implementation of Proposal 3’s absentee ballot provision

In 2018, voters approved Michigan Proposal 3, a citizen-initiated measure that added no-excuse absentee voting to the Michigan Constitution. Before Proposal 3, statute required an excuse related to age, travel, religion, arraignment or trial, or election duties to obtain an absentee ballot. The League of Women Voters of Michigan (LWV), along with state chapters of the ACLU and NAACP, sponsored the proposal.

On May 22, 2020, the LWV sued Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) in the Michigan Court of Appeals over the implementation of Proposal 3’s absentee ballot provision.

Proposal 3 (Article II, Section 4 of the Michigan Constitution) states that electors have a right to vote an absentee ballot in person or via mail during the 40 days before an election. Existing statute says that mail-in absentee ballots need to be received by elections clerks before polls close (at 8 p.m.) on election day to be counted. According to LWV, Proposal 3 rendered the statute unconstitutional.

The lawsuit stated, “For instance, a voter who mails her completed ballot the day before election day will have her ballot rejected if it arrives at the clerk’s office two days later. The received-by deadline thus facially denies voters their express constitutional right ‘to choose’ to submit their absentee ballots ‘by mail’ at any time within 40 days of election day.”

Proposal 3 stated that the constitutional amendment was self-executing and “shall be liberally construed in favor of voters’ rights in order to effectuate its purposes.” In the lawsuit, LWV asked the court to order Secretary Benson to direct local election clerks to count mail-in absentee ballots that were postmarked by election day.

On May 22, a spokesperson for the secretary of state said that the office had no immediate comment while the lawsuit was being reviewed.

Along with creating a state constitutional right to vote by absentee ballot, Proposal 3 established constitutional rights to straight-ticket voting, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and the auditing of election results.

Additional reading:

Campaign behind Michigan LGBTQ nondiscrimination initiative files signatures below requirement while challenging the requirement in court

Update: This article has been updated in response to Judge Stephens’ order extending the signature filing deadline for the campaign Fair and Equal Michigan.

On May 26, the campaign Fair and Equal Michigan announced that they would file 177,865 signatures by the deadline on May 27, 2020, for a ballot initiative to add gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression to the state’s nondiscrimination law. The ballot initiative would also prohibit discrimination on the basis of the religious beliefs of an individual. However, Judge Cynthia Stephens granted temporary emergency relief, which extended the the initiative’s signature deadline to at least June 3, 2020.

Fair and Equal Michigan filed a legal complaint challenging the signature requirement in the Michigan Court of Claims on May 26. Judge Stephens said she would consider the merits of the complaint and motions on June 2. In the court case, Fair and Equal Michigan, along with plaintiffs Sen. Adam Hollier (D-2) and Rep. Mari Manoogian (D-40), argued that the signature threshold should be decreased to 127,518 because the coronavirus pandemic and related orders had the effect of limiting the campaign’s circulation period to 45 days. In Michigan, campaigns receive 180 days to collect signatures. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D), Director of Elections Jonathan Brater, and the Michigan Board of State Canvassers were named as defendants.

At least 340,047 valid signatures need to be collected for the ballot initiative, meaning the campaign is currently more than 162,000 signatures short of the requirement. Trevor Thomas, a campaign co-chairperson, said, “The Stay-at-Home orders, while important to public safety, shut down all traditional canvassing right when our campaign was nearing peak operational capacity – which is about 50,000 signatures plus per week.”

The Michigan State Constitution requires that campaigns for initiated state statutes collect a total number of signatures equal to 8 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Since 4,250,585 people voted for governor in 2018, the requirement was set at 340,047.

Ballotpedia is tracking how the coronavirus pandemic and related policies are impacting ballot measures. Fair and Equal Michigan is one of at least 19 ballot initiative campaigns that have challenged ballot initiative requirements, including deadlines, verification procedures, signature thresholds, and in-person signature requirements, in courts.

Fair and Equal Michigan had raised $2.22 million through the most recent campaign finance period, which ended on April 20, 2020. The largest contributor was a 501(C)(4) organization named Bipartisan Solutions. Dow Chemical, based in Midland, Michigan, contributed $250,000. Kellogg’s, based in Battle Creek, Michigan, contributed $125,000.

Additional reading:

Michigan legislature asks state Supreme Court to take up lawsuit challenging governor’s emergency powers

On Friday, May 22, Republicans in the Michigan Senate and House asked the Michigan Supreme Court to consider a lawsuit filed by House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) challenging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s (D) emergency declarations issued in response to the coronavirus.

A Michigan Court of Claims Judge ruled against the legislature on Thursday, May 21, but attorneys for the House and Senate asked the state’s highest court to grant the lawsuit an “emergency-bypass review” to avoid a decision from the Court of Appeals.

Gov. Whitmer has issued emergency declarations, including the state’s stay-at-home order, under two laws, one from 1976 and one from 1945. The legislature’s lawsuit challenges the Governor’s authority to issue statewide and indefinite emergency declarations under both laws. The Court of Claims ruled that Gov. Whitmer exceeded her authority under the 1976 law but not the 1945 law, and dismissed the lawsuit.

All registered Michigan voters in August 4, 2020, and November 3, 2020, elections to receive mail-in ballot applications automatically

On May 19, 2020, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) announced that all registered voters in the August 2, 2020, primary and November 3, 2020, general election would receive mail-in ballot applications automatically.

Michigan one of 12 states that have opted to deliver absentee/mail-in ballot applications automatically to all voters in advance of certain elections. It is also one of three states that have expanded absentee/mail-in ballot policies for both upcoming statewide primaries and the November general election. The other two are California and Connecticut.

Whitmer signs executive order allowing retail businesses, restaurants to reopen in 32 Michigan counties

On May 18, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed an executive order allowing retail businesses, offices, restaurants, and bars to reopen effective May 22 in the following 32 counties: Alger, Alpena, Antrim, Baraga, Benzie, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Crawford, Delta, Dickinson, Emmet, Gogebic, Grand Traverse, Houghton, Iron, Kalkaska, Keweenaw, Leelanau, Luce, Mackinac, Manistee, Marquette, Menominee, Missaukee, Montmorency, Ontonagon, Otsego, Presque Isle, Roscommon, Schoolcraft and Wexford.

Restaurants and bars will be subject to a 50% capacity limit.

Michigan’s reopening has been in progress since April 24, at which time Whitmer announced that landscaping and outdoor activity businesses, and curbside retail for nonessential supplies, could resume. Effective May 11, manufacturing businesses were allowed to reopen.

Michigan’s stay-at-home order, first issued on March 23 and originally set to expire on April 13, has been modified and extended numerous times. It is currently set to expire on May 28.

Michigan extends stay-at-home order to May 28, allows manufacturers to resume operations May 11

On May 7, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) extended Michigan’s stay-at-home order to May 28. Whitmer issued the original order on March 23, and it was initially set to expire on April 13. Whitmer subsequently extended the order, first through April 30, then through May 15, and, yesterday, through May 28.
Whitmer announced that manufacturing entities could resume operations effective May 11. She also unveiled her phased reopening plan for the state, the “MI Safe Start” plan. The plan outlines six phases of disease spread, with restrictions placed on businesses being relieved progressively as the state moves through each phase. Whitmer said that Michigan was currently in phase three (flattening), which is marked by a relatively stable number of new cases and deaths on a day-to-day basis, stable healthcare system capacity, and ramped up testing and tracing efforts. The plan does not specify effective or duration dates for each phase. Instead, movement from one phase to another is contingent on meeting and maintain certain public health benchmarks.
Michigan began its reopening process on April 24, joining five other states that reopened on that day. Effective April 24, Michigan landscaping and outdoor activity businesses were allowed to reopen, and stores selling nonessential supplies were permitted to reopen for curbside pick-up and delivery services.

In Michigan, federal appeals court partially overturns lower court order modifying candidate filing procedures

On May 5, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that a district court judge who ordered modifications to Michigan’s candidate filing procedures had erred in doing so. Although the appeals court agreed that the original requirements were unconstitutional, it found that the lower court had exceeded its authority in mandating new requirements to the state.

On April 20, Judge Terrence Berg, of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, issued an order reducing the petition signature requirements for select primary candidates to 50 percent of their statutory requirements. Berg also extended the filing deadline from April 21 to May 8 and directed election officials to develop procedures allowing for the collection and submission of electronic petition signatures. Berg’s order had applied only to candidates for offices without a filing-fee option: U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, and judicial offices. The order did not apply to state legislative candidates, who have the option to obtain ballot access by paying a filing fee.

The appeals court directed the state “to select its own adjustments so as to reduce the burden on ballot access, narrow the restrictions to align with its interest, and thereby render the application of the ballot-access provisions constitutional under the circumstances.” The state has yet to indicate what modifications it will implement in response to the appeals court ruling.

To date, at least 12 states have made modifications to candidate filing procedures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. For more information, see this article.

Extended candidate filing period for congressional races to end in Michigan

The statewide filing deadline to run for congressional offices in Michigan is on May 8, 2020. The filing period was originally set to end on April 21, but the deadline was extended by court order in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. To qualify for the extended May 8 deadline, congressional candidates must have filed a statement of organization with the Federal Election Commission or formed a candidate committee under Michigan state law on or before March 10. The order also permits candidates to collect and submit signatures electronically. A provision reducing the required number of signatures by 50% is the subject of a pending appeal.

Prospective candidates in Michigan may file for the following congressional offices:
  • U.S. Senate (1 seat)
  • U.S. House (14 seats)

Michigan’s primary is scheduled for August 4, and the general election is scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Michigan’s extended deadline is the 37th congressional filing deadline to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next is on May 15 in Washington.

Additional reading:

Michigan extends stay-at-home order

On April 24, 2020, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) announced at a press conference that she was extending the state’s stay-at-home order through May 15. The order, which took effect March 25, had already been extended once before through April 30.

The new order relaxes some restrictions on businesses and individuals, while establishing a new requirement that people wear non-medical grade face coverings in crowded areas, like grocery stores. The order specifies that no one will face a criminal penalty for going without a mask.

Some businesses previously considered nonessential under the order, like lawn-service companies and nurseries, will be allowed to reopen so long as they enforce social distancing policies. Other companies, like retailers that are not considered essential, can reopen for delivery or curbside pickup.

To date, Ballotpedia has tracked seven pending lawsuits that challenge Whitmer’s authority to enforce some or all aspects of the stay-at-home order.

Ballotpedia is providing comprehensive coverage on how the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is affecting America’s political and civic life. Our coverage includes how federal, state, and local governments are responding, and the effects those responses are having on campaigns and elections.

Candidate filing periods end in Michigan and Florida

Major party filing deadlines passed to run for elected office in Michigan on April 21 and Florida on April 24.

In Michigan, candidates filed for the following state offices:
  • Michigan House of Representatives (110 seats)
  • Ballotpedia is also covering local elections in Wayne County

Michigan’s filing deadline was extended from April 21 to May 8, 2020, for candidates to offices that require nominating petitions to access the ballot. These include non-incumbent judicial candidates and independent state executive candidates, among others. Offices that offer candidates the option to pay filing fees to access the ballot did not have their filing period extended.

In Florida, candidates filed for the following state offices:
  • Supreme Court (1 seat)
  • Intermediate Appellate Court (23 seats)
  • Ballotpedia is also covering local elections in the following areas: Jacksonville, Hillsborough County, Miami-Dade County, Orange County, and Pinellas County

The primary in Michigan is scheduled for August 4, and the primary in Florida is scheduled for August 18. The general election in both states is scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Michigan and Florida’s statewide filing deadlines were the 35th and 36th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next statewide filing deadline is on May 5 in Massachusetts.

Michigan has a divided government, meaning no political party holds a state government trifecta. Florida has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.