In normal times, Michigan requires that candidates for some public offices collect a specified number of petition signatures from voters in their district in order to for their names to appear on the ballot. The theory behind the requirement is that candidates must show a “modicum of support” from the public in order to stand for election.
However, these are not normal times. During a pandemic, it is not safe to physically approach voters and ask for their signatures on a petition. And, since Governor Whitmer issued the stay-at-home executive order on March 23, it has been illegal to do so. Candidates facing an April 21 deadline to turn in petition signatures were facing an unfair choice: either give up the opportunity to run for political office, or violate the law and put public health at risk by collecting petition signatures from hundreds of voters.
On April 14, the ACLU of Michigan, working with the University of Michigan Law School’s Civil Rights Initiative, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a federal lawsuit filed by a candidate running for Congress. We argued that during the unique circumstances presented by a dangerous pandemic, the signature requirement is unconstitutional because it severely burdens the constitutional rights of candidates and voters. On April 20, Judge Terrence Berg agreed with our analysis and enjoined the state from enforcing the signature requirement. Judge Berg ordered the state to cut the number of signatures required by 50 percent, extend the filing deadline until May 8, and implement a system for collecting signatures in digital form such as by email.