2022 Michigan ballot issues tracker: What to know about election proposals

This post will be continuously updated throughout the 2022 election season. It was last updated on Friday, Feb. 18, at 1:35 p.m. to reflect that the MI Right to Vote petition drive has formed a ballot committee.

LANSING — More than a dozen proposals could appear on the November ballot in Michigan, seeking to transform everything from elections and school funding to abortion and the minimum wage.

Many of the measures are in their infancy and at least two are competing proposals. 

Can’t keep track? Bridge Michigan has compiled a primer of ballot proposals explaining what they would change, where they stand in the process, major funders and arguments surrounding them.

And keep in mind: Michigan law allows the Legislature to adopt petitions that gather enough signatures into law, so some of the measures may never even make it to voters, including ones to change health regulations, require ID to vote and create a tax credit scholarship program for private schools.  

We will update this tracker as ballot measures move through the process throughout the year.

First, a bit about the process:

Michigan citizens can file a petition with the state government to establish a new law, repeal a newly-enacted law through a referendum or amend the state’s constitution.

Groups pushing for new legislation or a constitutional amendment must submit a copy of their petition to the Secretary of State before circulating it. They may also submit to the state Board of Canvassers the format of the petition and a summary of the petition of no more than 100 words for approval.

Approval is not required for groups to gather signatures, but is recommended to minimize chances the petition is rejected later in the process. Groups can start collecting signatures to make the ballot as soon as they submit the petition to the Secretary of State. The number of valid signatures required for each petition type is based on the percentage of total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.

 The deadlines are:

  • Amend the state’s constitution: 5 p.m. July 11, 425,059 valid signatures (10 percent of last gubernatorial election).
  • Establish a new law: 5 p.m. June 1 at least 340,047 valid signatures (8 percent of last election).
  • Referendum to repeal a newly-enacted law: 90 days after the law is enacted, 212,530 valid signatures (5 percent).

The Board of Canvassers — a four-member panel in charge of tallying votes, certifying statewide elections and recounting ballots for state-level offices — will validate signatures for each petition. 

The state Legislature can then adopt or reject petitions seeking new laws within 40 days, a provision that is rare among states and allows lawmakers to circumvent the governor, who can’t veto the law. If lawmakers don’t adopt the measure, it goes on the ballot for the general election.

Constitutional amendments go onto the general election ballot, as will referendum petitions. Laws that are targeted for repeal are suspended pending the outcome of the election.

The group’s proposal would:

  • Require voter ID for in-person voting and absentee ballot applications and eliminate an affidavit exemption currently allowed for in-person voting without ID.
  • Require partial Social Security numbers for voter registration
  • Require voters who don’t present ID in person to present it within six days after the election for the vote to be counted
  • Bar unsolicited absentee ballot applications 
  • Ban outside funding for elections and restrict mail-in ballots
  • Provide voters with hardships with free IDs funded by a $3 million state fund.

Where it stands: Collecting signatures. The Board of Canvassers has approved the petition format and summary. The Republican-led Legislature likely would adopt the measure if it collects enough signatures.

More on the group: The Lansing-based group shares an office address with its biggest funder — Michigan Guardians of Democracy, campaign filings show. 

That’s a newly formed dark-money group linked to Heather Lombardini, a GOP consultant. Michigan Guardians of Democracy gave $750,000 apiece to Secure MI Vote and Unlock Michigan II and $100,000 to private school funding initiative Let MI Kids Learn.  The group claims on its website “VOTER FRAUD IS REAL.” More than 250 state audits and both federal and state investigations found no evidence supporting widespread voter fraud.

What supporters say: Backers, mostly Republicans, say the measure would add safeguards to the election process and ensure there is no fraud.

What opponents say: Opponents, largely Democrats, say the initiative offers solutions to a problem that doesn’t exist and instead is intended to suppress the vote and undermine trust in elections.

Major funders: Besides Michigan Guardians of Democracy, which contributed most to the group’s funding, the Michigan Republican Party also conducted mailing work for the group that amounted to almost $140,000. Michigan GOP Chair Ron Weiser also personally donated $80,000 to the petition committee.

Read more: 

The coalition of voting-rights groups seeks to amend the state constitution to:

  • Allow nine days of early voting
  • Publicly subsidize absentee ballots and a tracking system for the ballot location 
  • Continue to allow voters to sign an affidavit attesting to their identity rather than a state ID
  • Allow public sources and charities to fund local elections
  • Allow voters to register for absentee ballots for all future elections
  • Require ballot drop boxes for every 15,000 voters in a municipality
  • Establish that post-election audits can only be conducted by state and local officials

Where it stands: The Board of Canvassers has approved the revised format and summary of the petition.

More on the group: The coalition is backed by Promote the Vote Michigan, the ACLU of Michigan, League of Women Voters of Michigan, All Voting is Local, and Voters Not Politicians.  In 2018, Promote the Vote successfully pushed for similar voting reform measures, allowing for automatic voter registration, obtaining early and absentee ballots and casting straight-ticket votes. 

What supporters say: The coalition says the measure offers flexibility for voters to cast their ballots, make elections more accessible and ensure election security while protecting voter privacy

What opponents say: Opponents claim the measure would open the door to abuse. Republicans in general have been opposed to wide expansions of absentee voting because of security and cost concerns.

Major funders: There are no campaign finance filings by the Promote the Vote 2022. The group formed a ballot committee Jan. 21 and is not required to file its first quarterly report until April under state law. 

Read more: Michigan petition seeks 9 days of early voting, funds for absentee ballots 

The measure would limit the length of emergency orders from state or local health officials to 28 days, unless extended by the state Legislature or local governments. The measure follows controversy and a lawsuit over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s use of orders during the early months of the pandemic to close businesses and schools.

Where it stands: Collecting signatures. The Republican-led Legislature likely would adopt the measure if it collects enough signatures.

More on the group: The group last year successfully campaigned to limit emergency powers of Michigan governors. In July, the Legislature repealed a 1945 law that Whitmer had used to impose COVID-19 restrictions. 

What supporters say: Unlock Michigan’s spokesperson Fred Wszolek says it would “make sure no governor gets to govern by decree.” Republicans have expressed concerns that unilateral orders from the state’s executive violate the government’s separation of powers.

What opponents say: Democrats and health professionals warn the proposal could weaken the state’s response during emergencies and make it harder to keep the public safe.

Major funders: Michigan Guardians of Democracy gave $750,000 apiece to Unlock Michigan II, Secure MI Vote and gave $100,000 to private school funding initiative Let MI Kids Learn. 

Read more: Michigan GOP petitions to rewrite voting, pandemic and school laws in 2022 

The petition would force a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election and change how Michigan conducts audits after elections. It would set up an “audit board” of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats selected by the Legislature, stripping auditing power from the Secretary of State and local election officials. The board would be allowed to raise both public and private funds and would not be required to disclose private donors. It would also establish a grand jury that could investigate findings.

Where it stands:  The Board of Canvassers last month approved summary language but still needs to approve the petition’s form. 

More on the group: The group was incorporated in December by Jon Paul Rutan, who is founder of the Hillsdale Justice Project and was once affiliated with the extremist group Oath Keepers. Other organizers include state House candidates Jon Rocha of Kalamazoo County.

What supporters say: Rocha says it promotes transparency and security in the election system.

What opponents say: The Michigan Democratic Party, Promote the Vote Michigan and others say the measure would sow doubt in the legitimacy of elections. Others say it would give too much power to an unelected group.

Major funders: There are no known ballot measure committees tied to Audit MI yet. The group is not required to disclose its donors due to its tax-exempt status. Rocha said the group is not required to form a committee if it has not raised or spent more than $500 under state law.

Read more: Trump backers inch closer to ballot measure to overhaul Michigan vote audits

The group is sponsoring two constitutional amendment proposals. One would end the state Legislature’s ability to enact law proposed through ballot measures, while the other would:

  • Require two weekends of in-person absentee voting
  • Require at least one drop-off box for absentee voting for every 15,000 registered voters.
  • Allow voters to receive absentee-ballot applications without requesting them
  • Require the postage of absentee applications and ballots to be prepaid
  • Allow voters to verify identity with their photo IDs or signatures
  • Allow officials to prepare for counting absentee ballots within the 7-day period before election day
  • Bar lawmakers from imposing “an undue burden on the right to vote”
  • Ban laws that restrict contributions to fund elections, record voters, or discriminate “against election challengers”
  • Prohibit requirements of voter ID for absentee voting or social security number to register to vote
  • Require the legislature to fund elections

Where it stands: The Board of Canvassers has approved the petition’s revised format and summary.

More on the group: The group has a P.O. Box in Ypsilanti, according to its website. Jan BenDor, women’s rights activist in Washtenaw County and state coordinator for nonprofit Michigan Election Reform Alliance, leads the team, according to the group’s website. Other members include Michigan attorney Fred Green, who the website says fought to end gerrymandering in Michigan, and Robert Sedler, a volunteer lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union and law professor at Wayne State University.

What supporters say: The group says it aims is to battle laws that make it harder for people to vote.

What opponents say: Defenders of the law that allows the Legislature to enact the will of the people who elect them. Since 1987, the Legislature has adopted 10 of 16 petitions sent to lawmakers.

Major funders: The group formed a ballot question committee on Jan. 20 and is not required to disclose financials until April.

The group is pushing for two petitions: one would establish the Student Opportunity Scholarship program to pay for K-12 public or private school tuition and fees, home-schooling materials and online learning programs for those with financial needs; the other would allow taxpayers to claim a tax credit for contributions made to the scholarship program.

Where it stands: Collecting signatures. The Republican-led Legislature likely would adopt the measure if it collects enough signatures.

More on the group: More than 20 other states have similar programs. Former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is a backer of the effort. She has long championed school-choice programs before joining the Donald Trump administration in 2017.

What supporters say: Supporters say the program would open access to quality education for Michigan children.

What opponents say: Foes of the proposal say it could undermine public education and divert public funds into private schools.

Major funders: DeVos, along with family members, pumped a total $350,000 into the ballot measure committee account on Dec. 3, filings show. The group also received $800,000 from Get Families Back to Work, a group sharing the same office address as the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C., $450,000 from State Government Leadership Foundation, a D.C.-based conservative nonprofit, $25,000 from Lansing nonprofit Great Lakes Education Project’s advocacy arm, and $100,000 from Michigan Guardians of Democracy.  None of those groups are required to disclose their donors. 

Read more: Betsy DeVos backs Michigan petitions for voucher-like school choice program

The measure would increase Michigan’s $9.87 minimum wage to $15 per hour over five years, starting at $11 in 2023, MLive reported

Where it stands: On Feb. 11, the Board of Canvassers failed to approve the format of the petition due to font size concerns. The group has not yet agreed to amend the format.

More on the group: The committee’s treasurer, Chantel Watkins, is the lead organizer for Michigan One Fair Wage — the state chapter for national worker advocacy group One Fair Wage. Raise the Wage MI has raked in $1.35 million from the organization’s national advocacy arm, which is not required to disclose its donors. The group pushed for similar measures in 2018.

What supporters say: Supporters of minimum wage increases have said the move would lift up workers and small businesses especially as they suffer through the pandemic.

What opponents say: Groups like the Small Business Association of Michigan have opposed minimum wage increases,  arguing the could kill jobs and business owners should set market wages.

Major funders: One Fair Wage 

Read more:​​ Rising wages, few workers: A small town in Michigan adjusts to the new economy

The measure would amend the state Constitution to repeal make reproductive freedom a right, repealing a decades-old law that makes abortion a felony.  The law was nullified by Roe v. Wade in 1973 but would go into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the decision.

Where it stands: On Feb. 11, the Board of Canvassers failed to approve the format of the petition due to font size concerns. The group has not yet agreed to amend the format.

More on the group: The coalition behind the measure consists of the ACLU of Michigan, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan and Michigan Voices, a progressive nonprofit.

What supporters say: The ACLU says the proposal would protect women’s choice to end pregnancy without “political interference.”

What opponents say: Anti-abortion organizations such as the Michigan Catholic Conference said the measure was a “sad commentary on the outsized and harmful role the abortion industry plays in our politics and our society.”

Major funders: The committee is not required to file a campaign finance report until April.

Read more: Advocates seek ballot measure to keep abortion legal in Michigan

The proposal would cap interest rates for payday loans at 36 percent and allow the state attorney general to prosecute lenders who exceed that rate.

Where it stands: The Board of Canvassers approved the revised format and summary of the petition, and the group has announced it will begin collecting signatures in late February.

More on the group: The committee is run by organizers of the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Lending, according to committee spokesperson Josh Hovey. The petition received support from groups including Habitat for Humanity of Michigan, Michigan Association of United Ways, Macomb County Veterans Services and Michigan League for Public Policy.

What supporters say: Habitat for Humanity of Michigan President Sandra Pearson said payday loans could put borrowers in worse financial shape than before, the Associated Press reported.

What opponents say: Advocates say payday loans are a lifeline to the needy and the law could force legitimate lenders out of business.

Funders: The group is almost entirely funded by the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a D.C.-based liberal dark money group that has given the organization more than $80,000 in direct and in-kind contributions. The ACLU also offers in-kind support for the organization, campaign filings show.

Read more: Payday blues: Rural Michigan and the quick-cash debt hole

The proposal would repeal truth in sentencing laws that require those convicted of crimes to serve their entire minimum sentences. The measure would establish credits that reduce sentences for those who earn degrees or work in prison, among other provisions.

Where it stands: The Board of Canvassers has approved the group’s petition summary.

More on the group: The group hails itself as a coalition of “labor, business, social service and civil rights members.” Its board of directors include members of New American Leaders (a nonprofit recruiting candidates of color to run for office), United Food and Commercial Workers International (a union representing 1.3 million workers in North America) and Michigan Nurses Association, among others. Abdul El-Sayed, who placed second in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary election, also sits on the board.

What supporters say: Criminal justice advocates say the current law poses a barrier to early release for incarcerated folks who demonstrate good behavior.

What opponents say: Eaton County Prosecutor Douglas Lloyd told Michigan Radio the current law ensures crime victims of their safety from harm.

Major funders: There are no known ballot measure committees connected to the group yet, according to campaign finance filings. 

Read more: Michigan prison reform faces hurdles from Democrats Whitmer and Nessel

The measure would decriminalize the use and production of natural plants or mushrooms. It would also lower the penalties for possession of controlled substances from a felony to a misdemeanor. 

Where it stands: The Board of Canvassers approved the format and summary of the petition.

More on the group: Decriminalize Nature, a national psychedelics advocacy group, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which has chapters at four Michigan universities, are championing the effort, according to Marijuana Moment. Decriminalize Nature contributed $893 to Michigan Initiative for Community Healing.

What supporters say: Julie Barron, co-director of Decriminalize Nature Michigan, told PBS there’s a relationship between “humans and entheogenic plants [and] fungi” and that is a “human right.”

What opponents say: Opponents often fear the measure would lead to an uptick in drug-related crime, PBS reported. 

Major funders: Most of the group’s funding comes from individual donors, with $893 from Decriminalize Nature in Ann Arbor.

Read more: Local governments across Michigan vexed over how to handle legal weed

Bridge reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán contributed.

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