On Thursday, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the Michigan Board of Canvassers must place two constitutional amendments on the Nov. 8 general election ballot: Reproductive Freedom for All and Promote the Vote 2022. Earlier this week, the Board of Canvassers had deadlocked votes for both initiatives, requiring backers of both amendments to file appeals in order to secure a spot on the ballot.
On Sept. 1, Board Chair Anthony Daunt (R) and Board Member Richard Houskamp (R) voted against putting the Reproductive Freedom for All amendment — which would codify the right to abortion access in the Michigan Constitution — on the general election ballot. Though the amendment amassed over 730,000 signatures, the Board claimed formatting errors on the proposal, including a lack of spaces between some words, rendered the signatures invalid. Mary Ellen Gurewitz (D), the board’s vice chair, voted in favor of the amendment, along with Board Member Jeannette Bradshaw (D).
On Thursday, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the meaning of the amendment is still identifiable despite the errors in the proposal.
“The only challenge to the petition is in regard to whether there is sufficient space between certain words of the text of the proposed amendment,” the order reads. “The ‘full text’ of the amendment is present: regardless of the existence or extent of the spacing, all of the words remain and they remain in the same order, and it is not disputed that they are printed in 8-point type. In this case, the meaning of the words has not changed by the alleged insufficient spacing between them.”
According to the order, the Board of Canvassers must approve the petition as sufficient for placement on the general election ballot by Friday. The court also directed the Secretary of State to include the Reproductive Freedom for All proposal on the general election ballot.
The vote split among the justices was not included in the court order. It was noted, however, that Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack voted in agreement with the court’s decision. Republican-nominated Justices Brian Zahra and David Viviano dissented.
“This case raises a rather prosaic question with momentous consequences: do spaces between words matter?” Viviano and Zahra wrote in their dissent. “It is worth noting that the Board has rejected petitions for containing typographical errors, and the courts have upheld those determinations … Contrary to the majority’s conclusory assertion, the (Reproductive Freedom for All) petition did not contain the “full text” of the amendment, and therefore the board acted properly in declining certification.”
The amendment will now require a simple majority vote to pass the general election. If passed, the Reproductive Freedom for All amendment would protect the right to abortion, contraceptives and other reproductive healthcare services in Michigan. In that case, it would go into effect 45 days after the election, on Dec. 23, 2022.
The court also allowed Promote the Vote, a voting rights proposal, to appear on the ballot this November.
Promote the Vote 2022, which received over 664,000 signatures, filed an appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court Sept. 1, after Daunt and Houskamp voted against the placement of this proposal on the general election ballot. They argued Promote the Vote should be kept off the ballot because the proposal failed to include all the changes that would be made to the state’s constitution. Gurewitz and Bradshaw voted in favor of the initiative.
The initiative proposes a constitutional amendment that would implement nine days of early in-person voting, require military or overseas ballots to be counted if postmarked by Election Day, require state-funded postage for absentee applications and ballots and make several other reforms to increase access to voting.
The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the proposed amendments on the Promote the Vote 2022 initiative will not override any current constitutional amendments.
“The only challenge to the petition was that it failed to include all the constitutional provisions that would be abrogated by the proposed amendments, as is required by Const 1963, art 12, § 2 and MCL 168.482,” the order reads. “We disagree. Instead, we conclude that the proposed amendments would not abrogate any of the constitutional provisions identified by the challenger. The Board thus has a clear legal duty to certify the petition.”
According to the order, like the Reproductive Freedom for All amendment, the Board must approve Promote the Vote as sufficient for placement on the general election ballot by Friday.
Chief Justice McCormack wrote a concurring opinion. Justices Viviano and Zahra dissented.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) issued a statement praising the court’s decision to override the board and allow the initiatives on the general election ballot.
“I appreciate the Court taking swift action to ensure Michigan voters have the opportunity to consider these proposals on the November ballot,” Nessel said. “Our state constitution provides the people with direct access to the democratic process and that access should not be limited by appointed individuals acting beyond the scope of their duty. An overwhelming number of Michiganders signed petitions to bring these questions before the voters of our state.”
Daily News Editor Anna Fifelski can be reached at email@example.com.