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ACLU Letter to Michigan Attorney General: Petition Signature Collection Law Violates State and Federal Constitutions

February 18, 2019

DETROIT – In response to voters overwhelmingly passing three progressive ballot initiatives last November (voting rights expansion, marijuana legalization, and anti-gerrymandering), the Republican-led legislature passed a law during its lame duck session that will make it extremely difficult to gather the petition signatures needed to get any future proposal on the statewide ballot. The most controversial provision in the new law, which Governor Rick Snyder signed, requires that no more than 15 percent of the signatures gathered for a ballot proposal can come from any one of the state's 14 congressional districts.

In January, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson asked Attorney General Dana Nessel to issue an opinion regarding the validity of the law, and Nessel announced that she would welcome outside parties to submit legal memos on the issue. The ACLU of Michigan’s letter to the Attorney General outlines how the new law violates the federal and state constitutions and the federal Voting Rights Act. It explains that the law violates the Michigan Constitution since the constitution sets the number of signatures needed and the legislature cannot interfere with that by providing geographical restrictions. It also violates the First Amendment since circulating petitions is political speech unjustifiably burdened by the statute's restrictions. The law also violates the Voting Rights Act since it disproportionately impacts black voters. The vast majority of voting-age black voters in Michigan live in two districts statewide. Limiting the number of signatures that can come from one district will prevent hundreds of thousands of black voters from signing a petition. 

We urge the Attorney General to issue an opinion in the coming weeks declaring the law invalid and unenforceable. Read our letter to the Attorney General here.

We urge the Attorney General to issue an opinion in the coming weeks declaring the law invalid and unenforceable.

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