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State elections bureau recommends placing abortion rights, voter access amendments on the ballot

Michigan election officials said Thursday that two proposed amendments to the state constitution meet requirements to get on the November ballot.

One of them would guarantee the right to abortion in Michigan.

In a report out Thursday, State Bureau of Elections staff found the Reproductive Freedom for All campaign gathered over 735,000 signatures to get the measure before voters.

Dr. Rossana DeGrood works with the campaign. During a call with reporters Thursday morning, she said it was imperative to get the proposal passed.

“We don’t want young girls whose bodies aren’t ready for children being forced to give birth after being the victim of rape or incest. We don’t want politicians in the exam room, and we don’t want the government meddling in deeply personal and private health care decisions,” DeGrood said.

Abortion opponents had challenged the amendment over what they say are typos on its petition form. Specifically, they claimed several spaces were missing in between words, rendering them illegible.

“They are nonsensical groupings of letters that are found in no dictionary and are incapable of having any meaning. Further, they are not contained in some boilerplate part of the Petition, but rather are within the very heart of the verbiage being proposed to become part of the State’s organic governing document,” attorneys wrote in their challenge submitted to the Board of State Canvassers.

In evaluating the challenge, elections workers punted on the matter. They found it deals with the substance of the petition rather than the form itself.

“Courts in Michigan have found that the board’s duty is limited to determining whether the form of the petition substantially complies with the statutory requirements and whether there are sufficient signatures to warrant certification of the proposal,” the report reads.

The elections bureau’s recommendations come as the campaign ramps up its efforts to defend the question against opponents.

Attorney Bonsitu Kitaba said the amendment would restore abortion rights in Michigan to their status before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

“This proposal allows regulations for abortion and reproductive health care services just as it would any other form of health care. But it prohibits the government from singling out abortion care for more restrictive and non-medically necessary regulations,” Kitaba said.

The measure directly targets Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban. A court is currently blocking enforcement of that law through an injunction.

Opponents have worked to frame the proposal as going beyond simply legalizing abortion. They’ve questioned whether it would invalidate existing state laws like one requiring parental consent to obtain an abortion.

Supporters vehemently disputed those claims during Thursday’s media briefing.

“This measure … does not invalidate existing state laws on the books and will have to be decided by the executive and legislative branches on how it’s implemented, as well as judicial decisions on how it impacts other laws currently on the books,” Kitaba said.

That’s despite a summary of the measure written by the state director of elections. The summary, which appeared at the top of the petition voters signed, says the proposal would “invalidate all state laws that conflict with this amendment.”

“Do I believe it’s inaccurate, as a lawyer? Yes, I do. The provision itself, on its own, does not invalidate any other laws,” attorney Steve Liedel said.

He mentioned the campaign has already made the case to election officials that the summary would be wrong to include on the ballot.

Meanwhile, another proposed constitutional amendment aimed at growing voter access in Michigan also received welcome news from the Bureau of Elections Thursday.

Staff found the amendment sponsored by the group Promote the Vote gathered more than 650,000 valid signatures.

“Michigan voters are now one step closer to having their fundamental right to vote respected and protected in the Michigan Constitution regardless of where they live, what they look like, or what candidate they support,” League of Women Voters of Michigan co-president Christina Schlitt said in a press release Thursday.

If approved, the amendment would guarantee the right to vote without a photo ID through a signed affidavit, require the state to fund postage for absentee ballots and applications, and open up a nine-day early in-person voting period.

Copyright 2022 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Colin Jackson