The ACLU of Michigan and Promote the Vote (PTV), filed a complaint in U.S. District Court asking that the PTV ballot initiative, a measure to expand voting rights in Michigan, be placed on the November 6th ballot. This follows the State Board of Canvassers and Bureau of Elections failure to properly validate the petition signatures PTV was required to gather to place the initiative on the ballot. By failing to certify these signatures, the state has violated the voting rights of Michigan citizens who support the PTV initiative.
“The state’s failure to certify the petition signatures is a slap in the face to the thousands of volunteers who collected them and the more than 430,000 citizens who signed them,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “The ACLU fought and won the same battles to expand voting rights in New Hampshire and California, and we will fight and win for Michigan voters too.”
State law requires PTV to submit more than 315,000 valid petition signatures to place the proposal on the ballot. In July, PTV submitted more than 430,000 signatures. The State Bureau of Elections recently reviewed a sample of 500 signatures submitted, but determined that 24 signatures were invalid because the person reviewing did not think they matched the signature on file with the Secretary of State. Had just half of those signatures been determined valid, the measure would have automatically been placed on the ballot.
PTV staff and volunteers reached out to the disqualified petition signers and every person contacted confirmed that the disqualified signature was, in fact, their signature. PTV submitted signed, sworn, statements from 13 petition-signers. However, without explanation, neither the Bureau of Elections nor the Board of Canvassers agreed to consider these affidavits and deems the signatures valid.
PTV and three voters allege in the complaint that the state’s process for comparing petition signatures to a voter’s signature on file is arbitrary and lacks standards, in violations of Michiganders’ due process, equal protection and voting rights. The ACLU has won similar cases in New Hampshire and California.
The lawsuit asks the federal court to issue an order to certify the voting rights measure for the November ballot before the Sept. 7 deadline. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Terrence G. Berg.
Promote the Vote is a coalition of local groups sponsoring a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to expand voting rights in Michigan. The proposal would guarantee a secret ballot, ensure military and overseas voters get their ballots in time to have their votes counted, require election results be audited, make voter registration more accessible, and allow voters access to absentee voting without having to give a reason.
PTV is being represented by Andrew Nickelhoff and Mary Ellen Gurewitz of Sachs Waldman. Attorneys from the ACLU of Michigan and the National ACLU Voting Rights Project are representing two petition-signers whose signatures were improperly invalidated and a Michigan resident who wants to vote for the measure in November.