November election could be light on statewide ballot proposals

Presidential election years tend to be heavy on statewide ballot proposals involving legislation initiated by the public, but this year there might be none.

November elections in presidential election years are usually heavy on statewide ballot proposals. In 2012, six ballot proposals were presented to the voters in the November election. Expecting high voter turnout in a presidential election, groups supporting initiated legislation, ballot referenda or constitutional amendments tend to focus on presidential election years to get their issue in front of the voters.

Think back to 2012 when voters were presented with six statewide ballot proposals. One was the Michigan Emergency Manager Referendum, which was the referendum on Public Act 4 of 2011. The voters rejected the referendum in that election, and Public Act 4 was repealed. There were also five constitutional amendments on the 2012 ballot, all of which were rejected.

As groups began forming ballot proposal language and gathering signatures for the November 2016 ballot, it initially seemed there might be a crowded ballot in November. Eight groups had petition language for initiated legislation approved as to form by the Board of State Canvassers. Another four groups filed petition forms with the Secretary of State to propose constitutional amendments, three of which were approved as to form. Approval as to form simply means that the Board of State Canvassers has approved the format of the petition, ensuring that when a petition is submitted with signatures it is not dismissed for formatting issues. The list of petitions filed is available on the Secretary of State website.

The deadline for submitting signatures to the Michigan Department of State’s Bureau of Elections for initiated legislation in 2016 was the first of June. To learn more about the process for initiated legislation, ballot referendum or constitutional amendments, check out the Michigan State University Extension article How does a ballot proposal get on the ballot?

Of the eight petitions filed, only the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee, which proposed an initiated law to create the Michigan Marihuana Legalization, Regulation and Economic Stimulus Act, has submitted signatures to the Bureau of Elections. The petition language is available on the Secretary of State website.

On June 7, a staff report from the Bureau of Elections recommended that the Cannabis Law Reform petition be declared as having insufficient signatures, due to having too few signatures gathered within 180 days of submission. Michigan law requires that signatures gathered more than 180 days prior to submission are “stale and void”, though there is a process for rebutting this assumption and “rehabilitating” older signatures. 

The Board of Canvassers voted 4-0 to reject the petition on June 9 for having insufficient valid signatures. This means that at this point, there will be no initiated legislation on the statewide ballot in November. The Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee is reportedly considering legal action to attempt to gain access to the ballot, contending that the signatures they gathered over 180 days before submission should be counted. 

July 11 is the deadline for filing petitions for proposed amendments to the state constitution, meaning that there could still be ballot questions on the statewide ballot in November.

If there are statewide proposals on the ballot in November, Michigan State University Extension will develop analyses of them and will likely hold ballot proposal forums around the state in the weeks before the election.

This is the second in a series of MSU Extension articles on ballot questions. Check out the first article How does a ballot proposal get on the ballot? Also, be sure to subscribe to MSU Extension’s Government and Public Policy newsletters to stay up to date on these and other related issues.

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