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Spacing and formatting blamed for Board of State Canvassers' refusal to place abortion question on the ballot

Posted at 9:57 AM, Sep 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-04 10:07:25-04

LANSING, Mich. — Last week, we were at the Board of State Canvassers meeting when members deadlocked over the closely watched Reproductive Freedom for All ballot initiative. That’s the initiative that would enshrine reproductive rights, including the right to an abortion, in Michigan’s constitution. Today, let’s take a look at the reason behind that deadlock– spacing.

That’s a look at last week’s Board of State Canvassers meeting. You’ll notice opponents of The Reproductive Freedom for All ballot initiative are highlighting formatting issues within the petition.

“The the Board of State Canvassers, during its Aug. 31 meeting, deadlocked in their vote on their decision to certify our campaign, and our proposal for the Nov. 8 ballot. This is despite the director's recommendation that we be placed on the ballot," said Nicole Wells Stallworth, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan.

The ballot petition received a record number of signatures, more than 700,000, which is nearly double the 425,059 valid signatures needed to get on the ballot. Opponents of the initiative highlighted issues of spacing and formatting. They argue words are typed too closely together which makes the petition prohibitively hard to read.

“I did not approve the form of this, and I wouldn’t approve it now," said Tony Daunt, the chair of the Michigan Board of State Canvassers at the meeting.

The board’s vice chair Mary Ellen Gurewitz argued that the board does not have authority over the form of petitions only petition signatures.

“We simply have no authority to reject this petition based upon challenges to the content of the petition… that is not within our purview," said Gurewitz.

But with a 2-2 deadlock, the board could not officially place the petition on the November ballot. Advocates behind the petition quickly filed a request with the Michigan Supreme Court.

“The Board of State Canvassers operated outside of its duty," Stallworth said. "We are asking the Michigan Supreme Court to intervene and to require the state board of canvassers to effectuate their duty that they have been sworn to perform when they took the oath and agreed to serve on the Michigan State Board of Canvassers.”

A Michigan Supreme Court spokesman told me on Tuesday that the court is aware of the time crunch. A decision must be made by Sept. 9, but there is no word on what the Court will do or when they will do it.

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