(The Center Square) – The Board of State Canvassers on Thursday deadlocked 2-2 three times on votes whether to certify or investigate further the conservative Unlock Michigan petition to remove Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 1945 emergency powers before adjourning.
On Oct 2, 2020, Unlock Michigan filed signatures with the Secretary of State’s office. The group gathered roughly 460,000 valid signatures, more than the 340,047 needed. Those petitions are normally handled within 60 days, but this time, 202 days after filing, two Democrat members are refusing to certify the petition.
Instead, Democrat Vice-Chair Julie Matuzak motioned to engage in the Administrative Procedure Act regarding promulgation of a new rulemaking process for petitions and to pause the petition. Matuzak said she didn’t know who would fund that investigation or how long it would take.
Republican Chair Norman D. Shinkle said the change could take anywhere from a few months to a few years.
Mark Brewer, an attorney for Keep Michigan Safe and former Democratic Party chairman, claimed the time limitations were “artificially imposed” and there had been “no evaluation” of their challenges.
The meeting follows one day after Attorney General Dana Nessel found insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against Unlock Michigan.
“Our investigation found clear evidence of misrepresentation by the petition circulators and questionable training by persons who recruited and were supposed to supervise paid circulators," Nessel said. "However, those incidents were not in violation of any criminal statute.”
“What is the rush?” for certifying the petition, Brewer asked.
Michael Williams, an attorney for Unlock Michigan, answered, saying if the SOS had approved the petition within 60 days, the typical time frame, then that would have been approved on Dec. 2.
Williams called the complaints and investigations “largely distractions” and called for the more than “500,000 Michiganders to have their voice heard” and granted freedom to exercise their First Amendment right to petition the government.
Republican canvass board member Tony Daunt said starting the rulemaking process and pausing the petition would “open Pandora’s box” for eternal delays of petitions just because a member disagreed with the content.
“This resolution ... flies in the face of fundamental fairness to have it retroactive to people who started this process,” Daunt said.
Daunt compared the motion to pausing a football game with a 55-15 score and, at the last moment, changing the rules so the losing team would win.
Shinkle agreed, saying they almost always follow the staff recommendation, which in this case was to certify the petition. The motion equated to “an indefinite delay” after it has already been delayed 142 days longer than normal, Shinkle said, even though the group exceeded the necessary signature threshold by roughly 30%.
Matuzak alleged her motion was “less about the petition and more about finally straightening out the rules.”
Unlock Michigan spokesman Fred Wszolek said he wasn’t surprised by the delay.
I can’t be too shocked that they’re refusing once again to do their jobs,” Wszolek told The Center Square in a phone interview.” They have a clear legal duty to accept this staff report. We clearly have enough signatures. And that’s their only job.”
Unlock Michigan took 80 days to collect 460,000 valid signatures, but it has taken nearly double that time frame to certify the petition because of multiple delays, including the 2020 election.
The Legislature has a 40-day time frame to vote on the petition it once received. But for now, it’s paused.
“In between, there’s a 200-some day intermission, which is unconscionable," Wszolek said. "Now, this canvasser suggests we have an unlimited period of time that could literally take years and that everybody’s constitutional right to circulate petitions should just be put on hold in the meantime while a few bureaucrats do paperwork. Outrageous.”
Wszolek said they’re planning to file in the Michigan Supreme Court to order the board to adopt the staff report, a process he said that’s happened roughly a dozen times.
“There’s a clear precedent,” Wszolek said, which after filing, the court often only takes a few weeks to issue the order.