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Court strikes Michigan law to make petition drives harder

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Michigan Supreme Court

All seven justices found problems with putting a cap on the number of petition signatures by congressional district

An effort by Republicans to make it harder to change Michigan law through petition drives was declared unconstitutional Monday by the state Supreme Court.

The court struck down a 15% geographic cap on the number of signatures to get an issue on the statewide ballot. It would have placed a burden on petition circulators by forcing them to be aware of where they were gathering hundreds of thousands of names.

That portion of the 2018 law violates the Michigan Constitution, the court said.

“It would run directly contrary to the clear intention that nothing more than a minimum number of signatures from the statewide population is necessary to propose changes to Michigan’s laws,” Justice Megan Cavanagh wrote.

The court also nixed a requirement that people who are paid to collect signatures must register with the state. The court, however, said it’s OK to require circulators to indicate on a petition whether they’re being paid.

“By striking these measures down, the court has reaffirmed that ‘all political power is inherent in the people,’ as stated in Michigan’s Constitution,” said Paula Bowman, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Michigan, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The changes were made by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, also a Republican, before he left office at the end of 2018.

The law was passed after voters used direct democracy at the ballot box to change how maps are drawn for the Legislature and Congress; make it easier to vote; and legalize marijuana.

All seven justices found problems with putting a cap on the number of petition signatures by congressional district, although Brian Zahra and David Viviano believed the Legislature could set a restriction if people wanted to amend the constitution.

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