Anti-abortion group given 2nd chance for petition

Abortion rights protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court | Robin Bravender

After Michigan Bureau of Elections (BOE) staff reviewed a 500-signature sample for an anti-abortion petition and deemed that an insufficient amount of signatures were valid, the Board of State Canvassers voted unanimously Thursday to give the group a second chance and pull a larger sample of signatures.

Michigan Values Life, a coalition of anti-abortion groups that filed an initiative to ban the dilation and evacuation abortion procedure (D&E), fell over 7,000 signatures short of the 340,047 required signatures.  

Because of the results of the review, the BOE staff recommended that the board deny certification of the petition, however the board allowed Michigan Values Life another larger sample of more than 1,000 additional signatures.

During a Board of State Canvassers meeting Thursday, Eric Doster, the attorney representing Michigan Values Life, argued that some sheets filled with signatures were unrightfully thrown out in the review process because of small tears or whiteout.

State review: Anti-abortion petition falls short by 7K signatures

“Now that we have this extraordinary number of rejected petitions, which were incorrectly removed from the universe of petitions, and they’re no longer eligible to be part of the 500 petition signature sample … the sample that was drawn is flawed and must be redrawn from a proper universe of signatures,” Doster said. 

The Committee to Protect Access to Care (CPAC), formed by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, challenged the petition earlier this month and argued the group did not have enough valid signatures. 

Mark Brewer, the attorney representing CPAC, called on the board to deny the petition following the BOE staff’s findings.

“They come here today in a situation where they could have filed more signatures and could have done a better job of their petition drive, but instead of doing that, they asked to ignore their flawed petition drive and change the rules under which petition drives in this state have operated for decades,” Brewer said. 

Board Member Norm Shinkle, a Republican, said that he had gone through stacks of rejected signature sheets and found that some of them had been tossed for “missing a corner, smaller than a pencil eraser” or for small tears in the middle of the sheet.

“The staff’s practice is to remove from the universe any sheets where one of the mandatory elements of the petition has been torn, damaged or mutilated,” said Melissa Malerman, director for the Disclosure, Filings and Compliance Division at the Bureau of Elections. “If no words are touched by the tear, the routine practice is to keep the sheet in the universe.”

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Vice Chair Aaron Van Langevelde, a Republican, said he supports a resampling in order to ensure that the process is accurate.

“We are not disregarding the constitutional threshold for a minimum number of signatures; we’re simply saying that we’re doing another resampling,” Van Langevelde said. “And I guess I would ask other members, what is the harm of resampling if Mr. Brewer is correct and this petition is deficient? Resampling will show that.”

Board Member Julie Matuzak, a Democrat, said she is “not wholly opposed to taking a larger sample,” but added she has some reservations with the process. 

“I do believe we have standards that are long established, and we have thresholds that are long established,” Matuzak said. “So I will reluctantly support this motion, but I do believe that we have standards to uphold. … We need to safeguard everybody’s right to fair elections, and fair elections require rules.”

In a statement from CPAC Thursday, the group said “there is no justification for the special treatment Right to Life’s flawed petition received.”

“The Board’s action not only violated the State Constitution and election laws but will create chaos for all future petition drives. Now, in Michigan if a petition drive is ‘close enough’ or ‘might’ have sufficient signatures, that’s good enough,” the group continued.