Secretary Benson requests attorney general opinion on changes to state's initiative and referendum process

JANUARY 23, 2019

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson today delivered a letter to Attorney General Dana Nessel requesting a formal opinion on the constitutionality of several changes to Michigan’s initiative and referendum process.

The changes were passed by the Legislature and signed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder as Public Act 608 in the last days of 2018.

“I am proud that, for more than a century, Michiganders have exercised core constitutional rights in the circulation of initiative, referendum and constitutional amendment petitions,” Benson said. “I am deeply concerned that the new restrictions enacted late last year in Public Act 608 of 2018 may potentially violate those constitutional rights by adding new burdens and restrictions on the process.”

Benson’s letter asks Nessel to determine the constitutionality of:

  • The establishment of a minimum geographic distribution requirement for petition signatures and a limitation on the number of signatures per congressional district that count toward sufficiency.
     
  • Whether the secretary of state retains authority to prescribe a substantially compliant, congressional district-based form for statewide ballot proposal petitions given P.A. 608’s elimination of the countywide petition form.
     
  • The requirement for paid signature gatherers to file an affidavit before circulating petitions.
     
  • The option created by P.A. 608 for a petition sponsor to voluntarily seek approval of the content of the petition summary to avoid future challenges and the disadvantage it would place on sponsors of referendum petitions.
     
  • The requirement to file with the Michigan Supreme Court any legal challenge regarding a determination by the board of state canvassers of the sufficiency or insufficiency of an initiative petition and that the challenge be advanced on the Supreme Court’s docket.
     
  • Penalties that could require the rejection of otherwise valid petition signatures if a petition circulator doesn’t comply with all of the requirements of the act.

“With the 2019-20 election cycle already underway, it is important for the Secretary of State to provide the appropriate guidance to potential petition sponsors, circulators and voters, so that all may understand how 2018 PA 608 affects their rights,” Benson wrote. “Therefore, I respectfully ask for your formal opinion regarding these matters.”

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