Michigan Republicans in the state House and Senate are suing Attorney General Dana Nessel to compel her and all state officials to enforce a ballot initiative law after she wrote a formal opinion claiming it was partially unconstitutional.
The legislation was rushed into law during the lame-duck session before Democrats gained control over the executive branch. The most controversial portion of the law is that it dictates that no more than 15 percent of certified signatures for a ballot initiative can come from one congressional district.
Nessel’s opinion said that violates the Michigan Constitution because it “denies many registered electors the right to have their signatures counted,” with a limitation that she says has no basis in the language of the state Constitution.
The legislation also requires circulators to file affidavits and prominently display whether they are paid or volunteers, which Nessel argued also is unconstitutional.
“Nothing about this law is unconstitutional,” Rep. Jim Lower, R-Greenville, said in a news release after thanking Republican leaders of both chambers for challenging Nessel’s opinion. Lower was the primary sponsor of the legislation.
“The attorney general and secretary of state are grasping at straws in an attempt to circumvent the requirements of a duly enacted law,” he said. “They don’t get to pick and choose which laws to enforce based on personal preference. Their role is to follow and enforce the laws that are on the books.”
Lower said the intent of the act is to improve the integrity of the Michigan ballot initiative process, increase transparency and to ensure that Michiganders from all regions of the state have a say in the initiatives. He said this would defend against past problems of out-of-state interests affecting elections and ensure that everyone’s voice is heard from across the state.
“The AG's opinion is just that, an opinion. The Secretary of State is the office responsible to carry out the statute in question,” Amber McCann, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, told the Center Square in an email. “The lawsuit was filed by the legislature in order to uphold statue and ensure legislative intent.”
When asked for comment, Gideon DAssandro, a spokesperson for House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, said the speaker would defer to the court filing.
Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokesperson for Nessel, told the Center Square in an email that the office is confident in the attorney general’s opinion.
“We remain exceedingly confident in our opinion (OAG No. 7310) and expect our legal arguments and assessment of the constitutionality of PA 608 will be upheld by any court which reviews the matter,” Rossman-McKinney said.
Some other provisions of the in legislation include requiring campaigns to provide a short summary of the ballot initiative on the top of their petitions and requiring that all signatures be deemed invalid if a circulator deceives a signer or provides fraudulent information.