Majority of statewide ballot proposals would amend the Michigan Constitution

The Michigan Constitution provides four processes for citizens to directly pass laws, an act that will heavily come into play this November.

Michigan State University Extension has prepared a bulletin that provides Michigan residents with non-partisan, objective information about all of the statewide ballot proposals. Download the free bulletin, GE49 “Statewide Ballot Proposals 2012” from the MSU Extension bookstore.

Constitutional Amendments dominate Michigan’s 2012 Statewide Ballot Proposals. It appears likely that voters in Michigan will vote on six constitutional amendments and one referendum on the statewide ballot in November. If all seven proposals are certified, this will be the most proposals before voters since 1982, when seven also appeared on the ballot.

While it is important for voters to understand the content and rationale for each proposal, it is also important to understand how each proposal would change the law of Michigan and the role the public plays in shaping those laws through the ballot proposal process.

There are four methods whereby a proposal can be placed on the statewide ballot in Michigan: (1) constitutional amendment (2) voter referendum, (3) statutory initiative and (4) legislative referendum.  All but one of the ballot initiatives proposed for this fall will be constitutional amendments; the other pertaining to Public Act 4 of 2011, the Emergency Manager Law, is a voter referendum.

The ability to amend the Michigan Constitution is authorized in Sections 1 and 2 of Article 12. A constitutional amendment can be proposed either by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or by citizens gathering signatures of registered state voters on a petition. The number of signatures needed to qualify a petition is at least ten percent of the total votes cast for governor in the last general election.  This year petition filers had to obtain 322,609 signatures to be considered for the ballot.

A Voter Referendum is defined by Section 9 of Article 2 of the Michigan Constitution, which gives the power to voters "to approve and reject laws enacted by the legislature." Referendum must be invoked, within 90 days of final adjournment of the legislative session during which the law in question was enacted, by filing petitions containing signatures equal in number to at least five percent of the total votes cast for governor in the last general election. The effect of invoking a referendum is to suspend the law in question until voters approve or reject it at the next general election. Enough signatures were collected to invoke a referendum for the Emergency Manager Law, however, the validity of the petitions has been in litigation since they were turned in to the Secretary of State. The petition validity must be determined before the law can be suspended.

A Statutory Initiative, also defined by Section 9 of Article 2 of the Michigan Constitution, allows the people "to propose laws and to enact and reject laws." This initiative power extends to any law the Legislature may enact and is invoked by filing petitions containing signatures of registered voters equal in number to at least eight percent of the total votes cast in the last election for governor. The Legislature is required to enact, without modification, or reject any proposed initiative within 40 session days. An initiative not enacted by the Legislature is placed on the statewide ballot at the next general election. A law that is initiated or adopted by the people is not subject to gubernatorial veto and once adopted by voters cannot subsequently be amended or repealed except by the voters or by a three-fourths vote of the Legislature.

A legislative referendum is authorized by Section 34 of Article 4 of the Constitution. The Legislature may use this form of referendum to allow the voters to make the final decision on whether or not a bill becomes a law. In order to place the issue on the ballot, the Legislature must pass the bill and the Governor must approve language stating that it will not become law unless approved by a majority of electors. A legislative referendum cannot be used to make decisions on spending money.

Stay tuned to Michigan State University Extension News for more information on the 2012 Ballot Proposals. A balanced analysis of the initiatives will be available in October, 2012. Helpful research and analysis on the proposals can also information can also be found from The Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

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