A Michigan group on Friday submitted 539,000 signatures in a bid to repeal a law that has given Gov. Gretchen Whitmer broad emergency powers during the coronavirus pandemic, demanding that the veto-proof initiative be put before the Republican-led Legislature before the year’s end.
Unlock Michigan needs roughly 340,000 valid voter signatures and has a 200,000 cushion. Republican organizers said state election officials should be able to certify the measure within 60 days. That figure has been questioned by Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who has said it could take 105 days and has noted that the firm deadline is in 2022. That is when the legislation would go to voters if lawmakers did not pass it.
“These petitions are not an item in a state government ‘suggestion box,’” said Ron Armstrong, co-chair of Unlock Michigan. “They are the legitimate demand, pursuant to our state constitution, for a specific purpose: the repeal of the 1945 law that allows a governor to rule by decree. Our petition must be processed immediately for a prompt vote of this Legislature this year.”
Whitmer, a Democrat, has opposed initiative, saying she has saved lives with the law that lets her unilaterally extend a state of emergency and therefore issue underlying orders to curb COVID-19. Those directives have included a since-rescinded stay-at-home order — though business capacity restrictions, caps on gathering sizes and mask requirements remain in place.
“We must stay the course and remember that we are not out of the woods yet. All 50 states and the federal government have some kind of declared emergency to battle COVID-19,” Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said.
If the petitions were certified and GOP legislators repealed the law, a 1976 law would remain on the books. It says emergency declarations need legislative approval after 28 days.
Democratic state Attorney General Dana Nessel this week announced an investigation of allegations that Unlock Michigan circulators committed crimes. A secretly recorded video showed a trainer coaching paid petition gatherers on how to give voters false information and illegally collect signatures without witnessing them.
Keep Michigan Safe, a group opposed to the drive, subsequently released photos of petitions being left unattended at businesses without anyone to witness them being signed.
Unlock Michigan said it did not turn in about 1,200 “tainted” signatures from circulators who were trained by what they claim was a “liberal” operative who infiltrated the campaign.
“There is no denying that we have sufficient signatures to put our initiative in front of the Legislature for a prompt vote,” said spokesman Fred Wszolek.
The timing of the process could prove crucial. The House majority is up for grabs in November. If Democrats win control and the state’s signature review and expected legal challenges continue beyond December into 2021, they could instead let the proposal go to the November 2022 ballot.
Benson spokeswoman Tracy Wimmer said the elections bureau “is devoting all staff and resources to carrying out a successful presidential election amidst an unprecedented global pandemic. ... Preferential treatment will not be given to any petition, and the next deadline for review is not until 2022.”