The Bureau of Elections will review more than 4,000 of the signatures filed to repeal the prevailing wage law after the Board of State Canvassers unanimously rejected a request by petition sponsor Protecting Michigan Taxpayers to revive enough of the signatures in the smaller sample to put the measure on the ballot.
But the board’s action Tuesday could lead to changes in how the bureau conducts its sampling after members raised concerns that some of the signatures were rejected over circulator issues.
The board voted to allow the next signature check, which should include enough sheets and signatures to give a definitive decision on the validity of the petitions as a whole, when it was clear it would at best have a 2-2 split to revive any of the nine signatures PMT said it could show were valid.
Opponents Protecting Michigan Jobs then brought up a dozen signatures it could argue were not valid.
Jeff Wiggins, president of Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, said the group was disappointed with the board’s decision.
“Every Michigan voter who signed the petition to repeal Michigan’s costly prevailing wage law deserves to have their voice heard, even if they have sloppy handwriting,” Mr. Wiggins said. “Every citizen’s right to petition their government should be protected, free of disenfranchisement.”
But he said the group expects to have sufficient signatures after the larger sample to be able to bring the measure before the Legislature.
The group has all along been working to get the issue before the Legislature, where it expects the Republican majorities in the House and Senate will approve it. Governor Rick Snyder has opposed prevailing wage repeal, but the governor cannot veto initiated laws approved by the Legislature.
Construction union groups that make up Protecting Michigan Jobs hailed the board’s decision to move ahead with a second check.
“We applaud the Board of Canvassers for holding special interests accountable,” Doug Stockwell, business manager for Operating Engineers 324, said in a statement. “This irresponsible proposal from Lansing insiders to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law would have devastating effects on Michigan’s skilled workforce and economic recovery, and should be subjected to rigorous scrutiny like every other signature drive.”
Signatures most likely to see any votes for approval had been rejected because the year on the date was difficult to read. Bureau officials had decided some of the 17s could be 11s or 19s, which drew some scoffs from board members.
“When there is an arguable distinction on a petition, the petition should be found as valid,” said Gary Gordon, attorney for PMT.
There were also some questions from the Republican members why the bureau accepts GR for Grand Rapids and A2 for Ann Arbor, but not SH for Sterling Heights (Elections Director Sally Williams said it was not a common acronym, while Mr. Gordon said it was on a popular acronym site).
Board member Colleen Pero was, though, concerned about sheets that Andrea Hansen representing Protecting Michigan Jobs said were circulated by a person using an address that was actually a UPS Store post office box in California.
“I would have probably added six signatures,” she said, referring to Mr. Gordon’s arguments to revive signatures. “But then, when I see the circulator problem on the others, I would subtract signatures.”
Ms. Hansen said election law requires circulators to use an actual residential address on the petition. She said the UPS Store box would be a commercial address and so would violate the law.
Mr. Gordon said that interpretation would essentially prohibit homeless people from circulating petitions. “You’re basically saying if you don’t have a house or an apartment, you can’t circulate a petition,” he said. “You don’t have to have a residence to register to vote.”
Ms. Pero raised concerns that the bureau’s current process for checking signatures could leave its sample sizes wrong. The bureau does a first check of each petition and removes any sheets that have problems with the circulator section before doing a final signature count as the basis for its sample size.
It then invalidates any sample signatures where it later finds circulator problems on the petition form.
Since those sheets should have been removed during the initial check, not replacing those signatures invalidated by circulator errors throws off the sample size, rather than contributing to the determination of the total number of valid signatures, Ms. Pero said.
Ms. Williams said the bureau has been using the method by which it checked the PMT petitions for decades. While she acknowledged that some of the date issues could have been caught during that initial pass, she said the concerns over the out-of-state circulator address would not have been found because staff does not check that the street addresses are residential.
Ms. Williams said she was open to discussing changes in the process, but urged that it be for future ballot proposals.