Groups wanting to expand access to voting and boost Michigan's renewable energy requirement will quickly begin gathering signatures for 2018 ballot drives after receiving initial approval from the state elections board Tuesday.
The Board of State Canvassers approved the form of petitions submitted by Promote the Vote, which needs about 316,000 valid signatures for its constitutional amendment, and Clean Energy, Healthy Michigan, which needs roughly 253,000 for its initiated legislation.
Organizers of the voting measure include the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the NAACP's state and Detroit branches. The groups' proposal would let voters cast an absentee ballot for any reason, allow citizens to register by mail closer to Election Day and in person at any time, and automatically register citizens when they obtain a driver's license or state ID card. Another provision would reinstate straight-ticket voting, which Republican lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder banned in 2016 but was allowed to continue during a pending legal challenge.
"These are really commonsense reforms that most states already have. Michigan is far behind," said Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. She said the changes should be "embedded in the constitution" so they "can't be taken away."
Absentee voters currently must be at least 60 years old, be out of town when the polls are open or be unable to vote on Election Day due to a physical disability, religious tenets or incarceration.
The second proposal that got the go-ahead Tuesday would require electric providers to gradually increase the power they produce from wind and other renewable sources to 30 percent by 2030. Under current law, they must reach 15 percent by the end of 2021.
John Freeman, who is helping lead the effort, said 18 states have higher standards than 15 percent.
"It provides a nice kind of a ramp for the expansion of renewable energy," he said, contending that renewable sources of power are cheaper, non-polluting and save residents and businesses money. "The public health benefits are tremendous."
California-based billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer's NextGen America is providing financial support for the initiative. If enough signatures are collected, it will first go to the Republican-led Legislature and then the November ballot, if lawmakers do not act.
In 2012, Michigan voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required electricity suppliers to generate 25 percent of their power from wind, solar, biomass or hydropower by 2025.
Both of the state's two dominant utilities, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, oppose the latest ballot measure.
DTE Energy Chairman and CEO Gerry Anderson said the company has already committed to reducing its carbon emissions by more than 80 percent.
"We have worked hard to build the broad bipartisan support for this work that exists in our state," he said in a statement. "However, I believe that mandates driven from outside our state that step over legislation recently passed in Michigan threaten to set this progress back by introducing the partisanship and discord we see too often in other states."