What happens to 2020 ballot initiatives during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Posted at 4:37 PM, Mar 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-20 16:37:42-04

People had taken to the streets of Michigan over the past few weeks to gather signatures for several ballot initiatives with hopes to be on the 2020 ballot, but that is all changing amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

In all, there are five different proposals; three of which are initiated state statutes and the other two initiated constitutional amendments.

Related: Ballot initiative aims to tighten lobbyist influence on Michigan lawmakers< /span>

With those comes the need to gather signatures. For the state statutes proposals, they have to gather 340,047 signatures – equal to 8 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Those signatures have to be filed by May 27, 2020 and then approved by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers.

Those looking to add a constitutional amendment need many more signatures – 425,059 – equal to 10% of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Those signatures have to be filed by July 6, 2020, and then also approved the Board of State Canvassers.

Health officials across the globe are urging people to stay inside if they have to, avoid non-essential travel, and most importantly, practice social distancing. That means staying about 6 feet away from other people, which is nearly impossible when gathering signatures from people on the street.

Related: Ballot drive to bar LGBTQ discrimination begins in Michigan< /span>

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a statement that the state has needed to modernize the ballot initiative process for some time, and that circumstances with the COVID-19 outbreak make it all the more clear.

“At this time it is critical that we continue to carry out our democracy, and therefore need a safe way to determine if there is sufficient support for ballot initiatives," Benson said in a statement. "The mechanism should not make it so easy that initiatives are on the ballot that would not have been otherwise, nor should it raise the bar higher than it would have been."

After submitting the signatures and getting approval, the state legislature has 40 days to adopt or reject the proposal. If rejected, it will end up on the November general election ballot.

Fair and Equal Michigan , which is hoping to expand Michigan's civil rights law to include anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, has changed the way its gathering signatures. They surpassed 100,000 signatures on March 9, but have transitioned to a canvass-by-mail strategy. That means people can sign up to get a petition through the mail with instructions on how to fill it out and mail it back to them.

The outbreak forced Progress Michigan, which was working to restrict lobbying in Lansing through the Coalition to Close Lansing Loopholes, to suspend its campaign for a ballot proposal and start again for 2022.

"We set out to change the culture in Lansing by enacting lobby reform, but we never imagined that overnight the entire world would change. COVID-19 has disrupted lives across the country and world and has significantly altered face to face interaction. This has made the already difficult task of collecting more than 425,000 signatures to put lobby reform on the ballot in 2020 a relatively impossible one," the group said in a statement.

We have reached out to other groups gathering signatures, including Progress Michigan and the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition, to see what they are planning.

Ballot proposals in the 2018 election created a citizen redistricting commission, legalized recreational marijuana and expanded voting rights throughout the state.