September 5, 2002

Are Politics at Play in Michigan?

Two days ago, the Michigan State Board of Canvassers denied ballot access to two initiatives that had collected the required number of signatures to be placed on the ballot. The reason, as the Detroit Free Press article below will point out, was because the "proposals were defectively worded." Whether this conclusion is true or not will be ultimately decided by the courts. However, many initiative experts believe that the Board of Canvassers overstepped their authority. The statutes seem to be clear as to what their responsibilities are: 1) approve and ballot wording proposed by the Secretary of State (MS 168.474); 2) assign the ballot number (MS 168.474a); 3) verify the validity of the signatures that are submitted (MS 168.476); and 4) declare if there are sufficient signatures to place the issue on the ballot (MS 168.477).

Detroit Free Press
Proposals for ballot rejected

State board cites faulty wording
September 4, 2002

A state elections panel on Tuesday denied spots on the Nov. 5 ballot for proposed constitutional amendments to redirect Michigan's tobacco settlement money to health care and revamp sentencing of drug criminals.

The Board of State Canvassers said the proposals were defectively worded, a conclusion vehemently denied by the groups that collected signatures to place them before voters.

Backers of both proposals said they would file lawsuits challenging the decision as soon as today.

Roger Martin, a spokesman for Citizens for a Healthy Michigan, a group of hospitals and antismoking advocates behind the tobacco plan, expressed confidence the board's decision will be overturned.

"If they follow the law and court precedents, we'll be on the ballot," Martin said.

A spokeswoman for Gov. John Engler, who opposes both proposals as costly and cumbersome, said the groups "have only themselves to blame."

"They didn't meet the requirements of the law and made huge mistakes" in the wording of the proposals, Susan Shafer said.

The canvassing board voted 4-0 to reject the drug proposal, based in large part on the contention that its language would cancel out an unrelated provision in the state constitution that provides rights to crime victims.

The board split along party lines, however, on the tobacco proposal, with both Republicans opposed and both Democrats supporting its placement on the ballot. The proposal needed a majority to go on the ballot.

Opponents of the tobacco plan said it, too, would amend a section of the constitution unrelated to the proposal's central purpose, the governor's veto authority over spending measures.

Neither proposal was submitted to the Board of State Canvassers prior to circulation of petitions, as many proposals are, for review of petition language.

Engler spokeswoman Shafer called that a fatal error, one that reinforces the governor's argument that trying to set state spending policy with a lengthy constitutional amendment is an exercise fraught with peril.

Martin said that claim is "just junk. We followed all the rules. There is no requirement for pre-approval of language."

He said the Republican members of the board exceeded their authority by considering the policy implications of the tobacco proposal rather than the issue of whether it met the standards set by the courts for petitioning.

David Waymire, a spokesman for a group opposed to the tobacco plan, defended the board's decision.

"The real question now is, how much more money are the hospitals going to spend on lawyers, money that could be better spent on health care?" Waymire said.

Bill Ballenger, editor of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics, said the board's decisions, especially on the drug proposal, were "not a huge surprise," given the alleged shortcomings of the language of the petitions and the failure to seek pre-approval.

But he said it wouldn't be shocking, either, if the courts ultimately ruled that the petitions met minimum requirements for placement on the ballot.

"Most of the time, the courts look at these things and side with the people who collected the signatures," he said.

2) Pre-election Report Update

We hope to finalize our report during the next two weeks. However, as shown above with what happened in MI, the I&R world is a constantly changing one. But for now, here are the stats. However, please note that the numbers currently referenced in the report include the following:

a) It assumes that the two initiatives in MI that were denied ballot access (discussed above) will ultimately prevail and appear on the ballot.
b) That a food tax cut initiative in Arkansas (that submitted supplemental signatures last week) will be certified for the ballot.
c) That an initiative in North Dakota that would "direct the legislative assembly to authorize the state to join a multi-state lottery" will be approved. The Secretary of State has until September 11 to certify the initiative for the ballot.
d) That the initiative in Nebraska that "would allow counties, cities and villages to authorize machine gambling" will survive a single subject challenge that has been filed against it and be certified for the ballot.

In addition, several state legislatures have not yet adjourned their 2002 sessions meaning that additional legislative referendum could be placed on the ballot. They include Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
The current draft of the pre-election report is currently available if any of you would like to receive a copy (just let me know).

General Overview / The Vital Stats

200 statewide ballot measures have been certified (or will be certified) for the November 2002 election in 38 states. 49 will be initiatives, 4 will be popular referendum, and 147 are legislative referendum. If these numbers stay constant, it will represent a 30% decrease in the number of initiatives on the ballot when compared to the 2000 general election ballot. It will also represent the fewest number of statewide initiatives on the general election ballot since 1986 when 46 statewide initiatives were voted on. The decrease in the number of initiatives making the ballot can be attributed to three distinct factors:

1) Increased regulation of the initiative process has made it more difficult to place issues on the ballot;
2) Increased judicial action striking down initiatives on technical grounds has caused concern among potential users of the initiative process and has made them reluctant to use the process;
3) Many potential users of the initiative process are waiting to see what the new makeup of the state legislatures and Congress will be after redistricting and the mid-term elections. The new composition of these lawmaking bodies may be more receptive to their reforms and so therefore they would not have to turn to the initiative process.

However, even though fewer initiatives are making the ballot, state legislators placed 10% more issues on the ballot than they did in 2000. The reason for this is hard to say, but it could be argued that the increase is due to a desire by state lawmakers to increase revenue for their states through new bonds or the expansion of lottery and gaming. Many of these issues, and especially those that require a change to the state's constitution, must, by law, be placed before the voters for approval.

There will be an average of 2.04 initiatives per state (49 initiatives divided by 24 initiative states) and an average of 2.94 legislative referendum per state (147 legislative referendum divided by 50 states).

Arizona and New Mexico vie for the top honor of having the most prolific ballot this November - both with 14. The state with the most initiatives on the ballot is Oregon with 7 - a 60% decrease from 2000. Three of the top five most prolific ballots this November are in non-initiative states - New Mexico, Louisiana and Georgia.