LANSING – Supporters of an effort to allow Michigan voters to decide whether to prohibit the consideration of race in public education and other institutions said Wednesday they could begin collecting petition signatures in September.

Ward Connerly, chairman of the Sacramento, Calif.-based American Civil Rights Coalition, made the announcement standing with several Republican state representatives who support a ballot initiative. Altogether, 20 lawmakers have come out in support of the measure.

They think Michigan voters should decide whether they agree with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June that upheld a general affirmative action program at the University’s law school, but struck down the undergraduate school’s formula of awarding points based on race.

“Dealing with this issue on a statewide basis is long overdue,” said Rep. Jack Brandenburg, a Republican from Macomb County’s Harrison Township who is one of the leaders of the initiative. “Using racial preference to admit, hire or award is wrong and immoral.”

Brandenburg and Rep. Leon Drolet, another Republican from Macomb County, are leading the committee charged with finding people to raise funds for the initiative and gather petition signatures.

Despite the support of a number of Republican state representatives for the measure, GOP legislative leaders haven’t taken a position and Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Betsy DeVos has said it would divide people along racial lines.

Connerly said attorneys were reviewing the language of the ballot measure that would change the state constitution to prohibit racial preferences if approved by voters in November 2004.

He said the Michigan group is on the verge of signing a contract with National Petition Management, which has offices in Michigan and California, to gather petition signatures.

A constitutional amendment requires petition signatures of 10 percent of the total votes cast for the office of governor in the last election to appear on the ballot, said Kelly Chesney, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. It will take about 320,000 signatures for the affirmative action initiative to appear on the ballot, she said. Signatures will have to be submitted to the state canvassers by July 6, 2004, she said.

Connerly’s group in California championed a successful ballot initiative dismantling most public affirmative action programs in that state.

Connerly estimated that the campaign for the ballot initiative may cost between $800,000 and $900,000. He said he expects to pay for the campaign using money donated from people in and outside of Michigan.

A group of a little more than a dozen protesters attended Wednesday’s announcement. They said passage of the ballot initiative would mean resegregation of schools and other institutions.

Fourteen-year-old Britney Smith said affirmative action is needed because mostly black students who attend schools in urban areas don’t get the same quality education as white students in the suburbs.

“They talk about everything being equal, but it’s not and we want it to be,” said Smith, a sophomore at Cass Tech High School in Detroit. “Until that time comes we need affirmative action.”

Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, said the ballot initiative will divide the state over race.

“I think it’s a much healthier thing for us to move forward without relegating the dialogue to divisive language,” she said at another event on Wednesday in Lansing.

Connerly said he resents that the governor and others believe that the ballot initiative will be divisive.

“It’s already divided. When you talk about race there’s already division. It’s not ending racial preferences that constitutes a division. It’s having them in the first place,” he said. “I’m just simply peeling back the onion and showing you what’s there.”

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