The state of Michigan allows citizens to propose ballot initiatives, which can initiate state constitutional amendments or proposals to implement or repeal state legislation. Successful initiatives can be placed on the ballot in an upcoming election or delivered directly to the state legislature. For either of these to occur, citizens must collect hundreds of thousands of signatures; the precise number varies in proportion to the number of people who voted in the previous gubernatorial election.
This year, a proposed amendment must collect 425,059 signatures and proposed legislation must collect 340,047. If a proposed amendment passes this threshold, it is put directly on the ballot for the nearest upcoming election. For proposed laws, enough signatures advance the proposal to the state legislature, where lawmakers have 40 days to determine whether or not to adopt it. If they choose not to, the law is placed on the next general election ballot for voters to evaluate.
There are 16 petitions in circulation this year seeking to change or amend state law regarding issues such as voting, reproductive rights, criminal justice reform and education policy. To help navigate this year’s petitioning process, The Michigan Daily has compiled a list of tactics to help voters understand what they are signing.
1. Research this year’s petitions before signing them.
All petitions in circulation for the 2022 election year are available in full on the Board of State Canvassers website. Each item links to the full text, including all articles and referendums, of each petition as well as an image of a signature page. Since diving straight into the legal jargon of a petition may be intimidating, The Daily has identified two unbiased, accurate sources of information on this year’s petitions to help voters learn what each petition aims to do and which organizations support it.
Bridge Michigan’s petition drives tracker compiles information about 13 ballot measures, each containing an overview of what the petition hopes to accomplish, which groups are in support of and opposed to the initiative and from where the measure has received funding. The guide is updated on a weekly basis.
Eric Ivancich, University of Michigan alum and Ann Arbor resident, is the author of Michigan Petitions 2022: an all-in-one guide for Michiganders to read about the petitioning process, how to sign a petition and what petitions are being circulated for the 2022 election year. Similar to Bridge Michigan’s tracker, the document contains descriptions of every petition in circulation. Each entry contains the name of the organization funding the petition on the bottom-left corner of the signature page, a link to the petition in full, a summary of what the petition is requesting and the groups in support of the petition. The document categorizes the petitions into three groups, with progressive measures in the first two groups and more conservative measures in the third group.
Since its creation in early May, Ivancich has continued to make updates to the document, including a visual guide using an example signature page and a hyperlink to a chart noting the differences between the four voting rights petitions circulating this year.
In an interview with The Daily, Ivancich said he was pleasantly surprised to see the document’s link being shared across multiple social media platforms, with its reach extending far beyond what he initially imagined.
“You never know when you start making these efforts where it’ll go,” Ivancich said. “I only posted the link initially to Nextdoor, not even trying to post it to anybody else. But then I’m seeing the link to my document on Reddit. Other people have found it and they’re posting it on other forms of social media … (It) has been gratifying that I feel like it’s made some difference … it’s nice to see something you created then get circulated by other people.”
2. Read the summary and text of the petition in full.
Bullet points and quick summaries are a great introduction to what a petition is about, but the only way to get a complete and comprehensive understanding is to read its text in full. Being equipped with some context and a general idea of a petition’s goals can make reading the actual text much less daunting.
When reading the text of a petition, keep an eye out for specifics:
- Is the proposal a new statute or an amendment? Statutes and amendments take effect at different times and undergo different processes for approval. Laws may take effect within 40 days of being sent to the legislature or 10 days after the general election results. Amendments, on the other hand, take effect 45 days after the election.
- How are key terms defined? Proposed legislation typically defines the terms it uses frequently in a specific manner at the beginning of the document. Learning how terminology is used and applied in a particular case will make it easier to understand the language of the document.
3. Check the bottom-left corner of the page to see what organization is behind the petition.
Petition circulators take to the streets to drive interest and ask passersby for signatures. These interactions are often quick and fleeting, meaning that it can be difficult to read and comprehend a petition’s full text before signing.
Dan Berland, clinical associate professor at Michigan Medicine and volunteer for Voters Not Politicians, said in addition to reading the text of the petition, voters should also look at the summary and the organization funding the initiative before signing.
“Read the petition, and particularly (read) the very fine print down at the very bottom, where it says the name of the petition and who’s paying for it,” Berland said. “The next thing they should do is read the summary that’s approved by the state at the top of the petition under its title, so they know what they’re signing provisions for.”
Though the bottom-left corner won’t display other involved organizations, such as those that have donated to or endorsed the cause, being able to identify the main entity pushing the initiative and connecting it with your prior research ensures that you know exactly what the petition’s goals are.
If you are unfamiliar with the organization on the page, you can look it up on your own time and come back another day to sign if you find that it is a cause you support. You can also ask the petition circulator if more information is available online (it always is!), and they can direct you to where you can learn more about the specifics of the initiative before you sign.
Ivancich said he hopes Michiganders will understand the importance of petitions and how citizens can directly influence state law via the petitioning process.
“I do think (petitions are) very important, even though there are petitions that I would not sign that are currently circulating,” Ivancich said. “I think it’s very important for citizens to have this means to address things, especially since we’re, at least for the time being, still living under a state legislature that’s heavily gerrymandered.”
Carrie Rheingans, lecturer at the School of Social Work and candidate for state representative in the newly-formed 47th district, stressed the importance of exercising the right to petition.
“I think people don’t understand that there is power in this right that we have been given,” Rheingans said. “It is a way for everyday people to have more of an impact on what’s happening in our state specifically, but also even in larger places.”
Summer News Editors Irena Li and Samantha Rich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.