For Immediate Release:
January 10, 2014

Contact: Eric Lupher
734.542.8001

CRC Study Aims to Reform Michigan’s Ballot Question Process

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan has released a comprehensive study of the laws and procedures for getting constitutional amendments, initiatives and referendums to the ballot and bringing those questions to a vote. This study was spurred by a seeming growing sense of voter frustration with Michigan’s tools for direct democracy that was felt during the campaigns for the six questions that appeared on the November 2012 ballot.

Reform of Michigan’s Ballot Question Process looks at the ways questions make it to the ballot and compares Michigan’s processes and restrictions to those in place in other states. It looks at the laws that apply to paid petition circulators, the need to better inform petition signers, the petition certification process, and potential campaign and electioneering reform.

The primary recommendations of the report are for the state to require ballot question proponents to apply to the state before circulating petitions and for greater disclosure of those that finance support or opposition to the ballot question campaigns. Changing to front-load the petition certification process would clarify the roles of Secretary of State, Board of State Canvassers, Attorney General, and others involved in the process; eliminate 11th hour races to courts to challenge font size or the substance of proposals; and improve voter confidence in whole process.

“People need more information about the proposals being put before them,” said Eric Lupher, CRC’s Director of Local Affairs. “Moving to a front-loaded certification process would allow for drafting of the 100 word descriptions for inclusion on the petitions; it would allow for analysis of the ballot questions by disinterested parties either inside or outside of government for voters to read before signing petitions; and it would allow for early legal review of the proposals, perhaps copying the process used in other states wherein the opponents and proponents are empowered to write arguments making the case for a yes or no vote on the questions.”

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court said that funding disclosure for issue ads could be justified because of the “government interest” in providing the electorate with information regarding election-related spending resources. It left it to the states to establish funding disclosure laws.

“Ballot question campaigning and electioneering is the purest form of issue ads,” said Mr. Lupher. “While Michigan and other states have been embroiled in how funding disclosure laws should apply to political and judicial candidates, those issues need to be separated from ballot issue campaign funding laws to bring more sunshine to the Michigan voters.”

CRC’s report is available at no cost on the Citizens Research Council’s website, www.crcmich.org.

Founded in 1916, CRC works to improve government in Michigan. The organization provides factual, unbiased, independent information concerning significant issues of state and local government organization, policy, and finance. By delivery of this information to policymakers and citizens, CRC aims to ensure sound and rational public policy formation in Michigan. For more information, visit www.crcmich.org.

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