Reproductive Freedom for All Could Shatter MI Ballot Effort Records
The petition-signing frenzy occurred moments after Roe v. Wade was overturned in Washington, D.C. Alongside 1,204 signatures collected for Reproductive Freedom For All – 419 West Michigan beers were downed and 200 meatballs were devoured from a nearby vendor, according to pro-choice social media collective Distill Social.
On the same day, the Raise the Wage – an effort to place a new law on the ballot, but one that did not make the June 1 deadline due to signature forgery concerns – obtained 295 signatures in its endeavor toward the November 2024 ballot.
Meanwhile, Promote the Vote 2022 – the constitutional amendment effort to offer nine days of early voting, mandating ballot drop boxes for every 15,000 voters in a municipality and limiting post-election audits to state and local officials – obtained 386 signatures.
Earlier this week, the Reproductive Freedom for All – the constitutional amendment effort to solidify abortion access in Michigan and to abolish the state’s 1931 manslaughter ban on the procedure – turned heads when co-chair Linh Song said nearly 800,000 signatures have been gathered.
Constitutional amendment pursuits like Promote the Vote 2022 and Reproductive Freedom for All to modify Michigan’s constitution must submit 425,059 valid signatures by 5 p.m. on July 11 – this coming Monday.
Members of the media flocked around Reproductive Freedom for All’s accelerated numbers, as former Michigan Campaign Finance Network Director Simon Schuster reported the amount as "bonkers," and that it would equate to nearly one-tenth of all registered Michigan voters having signed a petition.
Elisheva Johnson, the executive director of Emergent Justice – a member of the Defend Black Voters Coalition and an anti-injustice organization – explained her grassroots network devoted resources into circulating Reproductive Freedom for All.
However, Emergent Justice was not part of the initial coalition leading Reproductive Freedom for All, which featured Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, progressive nonprofit Michigan Voices and ACLU of Michigan.
Regardless, Johnson said her group dedicated themselves to contributing thousands of signatures to the cause, adding that reproductive justice is not just about having babies, "it’s also about having autonomy over choosing your family and how your family comes together…this is so important that we think outside of the box on this."
"Training is hella important," Johnson said. "You just can’t give someone a clipboard and a petition and tell them ‘get out there and get signatures.’ This could be detrimental."
Not particularly for the abortion access endeavor, Johnson said she’s seen teenagers and young adults join the circulating brigades with limited to no training. She’s seen circulators fail to separate signatures by county, as well as individuals not comprehending that some signatures will need to be dumped out for faulty qualities.
In 2012, the Protect Our Jobs ballot proposal – an effort to allow collective bargaining for public and private sector employees – submitted an 684,286 signatures, which ACLU of Michigan has recorded has the current title-holder for most signatures dropped off.
Fifty-seven percent of voters disapproved of it.
The state’s Bureau of Elections has a list displaying 33 constitutional amendment efforts that successfully submitted signatures since 1978. However, the list has been described as inaccurate by sources from the ACLU of Michigan for potential clerical errors and listing "signatures submitted for some measures and the signatures estimated to be valid (or close to that) for others."
One of the front-runners on the list for most signatures to be filed was the Michigan Alliance for Prosperity in 2012, requiring any increases in state taxes be approved by either a two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature or through a statewide vote.
The constitutional amendment submitted 629,860 signatures when 322,609 were required, and 82.9% of its checked signatures were valid. Sixty-nine percent of Michigan voters, however, shot the proposal down.
Behind it, was the People Should Decide – also in 2012 – authorizing Michigan voters to approve of new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles through statewide and municipal elections.
After issuing 596,533 signatures and having 80.1% of checked ones deemed valid, voters rejected the effort 59%-41%.
Following the aforementioned two, there was Stem Cell Research in 2008, expanding the use of human embryos for any research allowed under federal law and barring embryos from being sold or purchased for studies.
The constitutional amendment pursuit turned in 570,793 signatures when 380,126 were necessitated that year, 87.4% of its checked sample were valid and 53% of voters that year went on to vote ‘yes.’
Even if the Reproductive Freedom for All doesn’t hit 800,000 signatures to be filed, the effort would still be historic as the first-ever ballot petition effort – including constitutional amendments, legislative initiatives and referendums – to bring in more than 700,000 signatures since at least 1978.
Merissa Kovach, the legislative director for ACLU of Michigan, told MIRS the 180-day timeline and this year’s July 11 deadline for constitutional amendments is already "quite a feat in itself," especially in a state where there’s a lot of inconsistent weather to contend with.
On top of its role with Reproductive Freedom for All, ACLU of Michigan is supporting and participating in Promote the Vote 2022 as well – the group also backed Promote the Vote in 2018 to set up no-reason absentee voting and voter registration by mail.
Kovach said she doesn’t know if there’s been so much of a difference in energy from what she observed with ballot initiatives in 2018, as establishing the state’s first-ever redistricting commission, legalizing recreational marijuana and the first version of Promote the Vote was all on the table.
"It was a moment – like a new moment in recent history when there was a slate of these democracy issues and these issues that were popular with voters, but we were (never) seeing progress with the Legislature," Kovach said. "I think it was a real sign and opened up voters’ eyes that they could take these issues to the ballot."
This year also marked the age of one-stop petition spots, opposed to circulators merely going to summer festivities and social hubs – the voters come to them.
"It wasn’t just folks with petitions attending events. There were signature-gathering events – there were whole events organized around gathering signatures because so many voters wanted to make sure they had an opportunity to sign this," Kovach said. "In the ACLU office, we’re seeing folks who are driving 20-plus miles just to come in and sign a petition."
Majority of Michigan Voters Receive Political News Via "Word of Mouth"
Pollster Richard Czuba, founder of the Glengariff Group, discovered 63% get news via word-of-mouth and 13% at work, which means 76% of people do not use the media as their main source of information for political events.
The internet, including social media and "other news web sites," account for 30% of the political news monitoring.
The Glengariff survey shows 25% get political coverage from the three major TV networks – NBC, CBS, and ABC. Another 10% go to Fox News, and 8% are using CNN and MSNBC for a combined total of 43% for all of TV news. If you toss in C-SPAN you add another 6% to the overall TV total making it 49%.
He then ran the numbers on one critical question regarding the perceived fairness of Michigan elections and 78% of the CNN viewers felt strongly that it was fair, followed by 65% of the local newscast viewers and 59% of the newspaper consumers.
The lower end of the spectrum saw 38% of the radio audience, 33% of those on social media and 15% watching Fox felt very positive about how elections are run.
For those who had the least confidence in the fairness of elections, the bulk of those were radio listeners, at 25%, followed closely by 24% watching FOX News. Social media news consumers, 12%, had little faith, 11% of the newspaper readers agreed and 6% of those watching local TV news thought elections were unfair.
What Pork Will the Governor Veto in Budget?
Other governors had the option to nix some of this spending, depending on their judgment over the value, but the question becomes if Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will veto or sign the budget.
"Each budget ends up with what I would not have introduced clearly," Whitmer said. "We had to get this budget done and we negotiated it and I’m going to sign it."
But what about vetoes to pork-barrel spending?
"Any vetoes that are coming are vetoes that won’t be surprising," she said.
Legislatures in general, and the current GOP-dominated one in particular, has relished efforts to pick away at executive authority, and the current budget on Whitmer’s desk is no different.
Tucked in so-called boilerplate, along with the $1 billion project spending, there exists the picking-away language.
"We kept some of the language out and we agreed that I wasn’t going to support some of the language and they chose to put it in and they know that it won’t stand. This is unfortunately how we do budgets in Michigan and in America right now," Whitmer said.
With lawmakers on break, some expected the governor and Republican leaders would begin negotiations on a tax relief package for weary citizens hit with high inflation and no direct money from the state in their bank accounts.
"After the break we will start negotiating on that … we all would like to do relief. There is common ground there. What that looks like is the big question. We have more negotiating to do," Whitmer said.
One popular idea is that Republicans are very reluctant to sign off on her $500 one-time rebate check.
"That is the quickest way to get money into people’s pockets," she said.
It has been a common refrain from the governor, but others feel it is also the quickest way for her to help cement her re-election bid.
"I can’t tell you what they are thinking," Whitmer said.
"I would be eager to share credit with every legislator who votes for it," she quickly added.
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