The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative came under fire last week, facing allegations that deception was part of a strategy to obtain signatures on a petition that would place the anti-affirmative action legislation in front of voters in the November 2006 election. The proposal in question would ban the use of race and gender considerations in situations such as government hiring and university admissions. The proposal was stalled Tuesday when the Board of State Canvassers refused to approve the legislation until further investigation is undertaken. Although it is unlikely that these charges will block the advancement of MCRI’s agenda, the state Legislature should promptly follow through with a complete investigation.
Claims that canvassers tricked black voters into signing the petition by telling them the amendment would help secure the continuation of affirmative action programs have prompted debate over the validity of many of the petitions. MCRI needed only 317,757 signatures to get the proposal on the 2006 ballot. Opponents say 122 signatures appeared questionable in the initial random sample of 500, suggesting that up to 25 percent of all signatures collected might have been obtained inappropriately. Because MCRI collected over 500,000 signatures, it seems unlikely that fraud would discount enough signatures to stop the proposal from appearing before voters next year.
Still, larger samples should be evaluated, and a complete investigation needs to be conducted to illuminate the extent to which MCRI canvassers duped Michigan residents into signing the petition. It will be important to determine whether a select number of independent canvassers covertly sought signatures with improper solicitations or whether these tactics were sanctioned by MCRI.
Even if these allegations of fraud are found to be true, however, the unfortunate reality is that MCRI — which, petition-gathering techniques aside, is fundamentally deceptive in name and language — will most likely appear on next year’s state ballot. Public opinion on the issue seems to be leaning in MCRI’s favor, but it fluctuates wildly in surveys based on the wording of the questions; most state residents know too little about its probable effects to form a fixed opinion on it. This state of ambiguity is what MCRI’s backers are hoping to exploit in next year’s election. Opponents should focus their efforts now on educating the public about MCRI and the impact it would have on affirmative action. As November 2006 approaches, collaboration and organization will be crucial in waging an effective campaign against MCRI. Student leaders united with the anti-MCRI group One United Michigan last week in Detroit to protest the initiative; collaboration between such groups will be crucial to educate the public about the negative effects of the proposal. The voices of student leaders and university administrators concerned with preserving affirmative action will be influential in increasing public awareness and strengthening support to defeat the ban, and they should not wait for official certification from the board to take action.