Michigan GOP canvassers block abortion rights ballot initiative, citing spacing between words

Democratic canvassers and attorneys for the initiative said Republicans had no basis for rejecting certification

click to enlarge Abortion supporters sign a petition in Eastern Market in Detroit to amend the state's constitution to affirm abortion rights. - Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling
Abortion supporters sign a petition in Eastern Market in Detroit to amend the state's constitution to affirm abortion rights.

The Michigan Board of Canvassers on Wednesday deadlocked on certifying a ballot initiative to protect abortion rights.

The bone of contention? The space between the words on the amendment.

Republican Canvassers Tony Daunt and Richard Houskamp rejected the abortion rights initiative because of typographical errors, saying the amendment lacked sufficient space between some of the words.

"The bottom line is that the full text of the amendment must be accurate,” Eric Doster, a lawyer for the group opposing the initiative, told canvassers. “It contains nonsense passages, and nonsense can’t be put in the Michigan constitution.”

The 2-2 vote means supporters of the ballot drive will go to court in hopes of getting the initiative on the November ballot.

The Reproductive Freedom for All initiative would amend the state’s constitution to affirm abortion rights.

The Michigan Bureau of Elections recommended certification.

Democratic canvassers and attorneys for the initiative said Republicans had no basis for rejecting certification.

“There are no typos. There is a spacing issue,” said Steve Liedel, an attorney for Reproductive Freedom for All. “Do you possess the statutory authority to disapprove this petition on a form requirement that is not addressed in any way under Michigan law? If you do this, you are setting a precedent that you can disapprove a petition without any basis in the statute.”

Democratic Canvasser Mary Ellen Gurewitz said her Republican colleagues had no authority to reject the initiative based on spacing issues.

“The full text is there, and I think we have no choice but to certify,” she said.

To make it on the November ballot, the initiative must be finalized by Sept. 9.

The coalition behind the initiative submitted a record 753,759 signatures.

Without a constitutional amendment, abortion could soon become illegal in Michigan. In May and August, the state’s 1931 abortion ban was temporarily halted by a Michigan Court of Claims judge who is presiding over a lawsuit by Planned Parenthood that argues the state’s constitution protects abortion rights. In a separate case, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is urging the Michigan Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue.

Earlier Wednesday, the Republican canvassers also rejected a ballot initiative that would improve voting access.

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About The Author

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist who operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker,...
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