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Ann Mullen, amullen@aclumich.org, (313) 400-8562

May 23, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 23, 2019

DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan lauds Attorney General Dana Nessel for issuing an opinion this week that Public Act 608 of 2018, which restricts the ability to collect signatures for citizen-led ballot initiatives, is unconstitutional.

In response to voters overwhelmingly passing three ballot initiatives (voting rights expansion, marijuana legalization, and anti-gerrymandering), the Republican-led legislature passed a law during the lameduck session that will make it extremely difficult to gather the petition signatures needed to get any future proposal on the statewide ballot. In January, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson asked the Attorney General for an official opinion regarding the validity of the law, and Nessel announced that she would welcome outside parties to submit legal memos on the issue.

The ACLU of Michigan sent a letter to the Attorney General outlining how the law violates the federal and state constitutions and the federal Voting Rights Act, and urged her to issue an opinion declaring the law invalid and unenforceable.  It explained that the law violates the Michigan Constitution since the constitution sets the number of signatures needed and the legislature cannot impose additional geographical restrictions.  It also violates the First Amendment since circulating petitions is political speech unjustifiably burdened by the statute's restrictions. The law also violates the Voting Rights Act since it disproportionately impacts black voters. The majority of black voters live in two of Michigan’s congressional districts. Limiting the number of signatures that can come from any single district will limit hundreds of thousands of black voters from having their signatures count on a petition. 

“Michiganders want their voting rights and speech rights protected, and this law aims to undermine both,” said ACLU voting rights attorney Sharon Dolente.

“We applaud Attorney General Nessel for issuing an opinion finding the law unconstitutional. This law was pushed through during the 2018 lameduck session as an obvious backlash to the three progressive ballot initiatives that the voters overwhelmingly approved in November, including ACLU-backed Proposal 3, which expanded voting rights.”

In addition to Dolente, the ACLU’s letter was signed by ACLU of Michigan cooperating attorneys Samuel R. Bagenstos, Eli Savit, Andrew Nickelhoff and Mary Ellen Gurewitz, and ACLU of Michigan attorneys Daniel Korobkin and Michael J. Steinberg.

Read the ACLU’s letter here: https://www.aclumich.org/en/news/aclu-letter-michigan-attorney-general-petition-signature-collection-law-violates-state-and

Read the Attorney General’s opinion here: https://www.michigan.gov/ag/0,4534,7-359-92297_92299-498088--,00.html

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