Friday, September 19, 2014

Michigan: Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal in Benton Harbor recall -- impact on signature gathering laws in the state?

The Michigan Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in the Benton Harbor recall case, effectively killing the recall. This leads to some obvious questions about the possible impact of the Court of Appeals ruling in this case.

For some recap here, the recall attempt was started against Mayor James Hightower. Petitioner Edward Pinkney appeared to hand in enough signatures to get on the ballot, but Pinkney was found to have allowed people to sign twice and changed the dates on some of the signatures (Michigan law is unique it gives petitioners a 180 day window to use a petition once the petition is approved, but they only 90 days to actually collect the signatures in the time period. So once the first signature is collect, the 90 day clock is running). Pinkney (who has previously been convicted of election law violations) is now facing criminal charges for the forgeries.

Berrien County Clerk Sharon Tyler (who is now facing petitions) threw out 21 signatures of people who had the dates changes and of people who double signed. Tyler did not limit her ruling to one signature -- she threw out both signatures from people who double-signed.

Her ruling was overturned by a state court judge, who rejected the idea that when a voter signs twice, both signatures must be thrown out. The amount signatures reinstated was enough to get the recall back on the ballot. However, this decision was overturned on appeal (no written ruling) and apparently upheld by the Supreme Court of the state.

It is not clear if this ruling has any impact on signature gathering beyond this case. It seems to require a much harder standard of care for signature gatherers. I don't think other states have that law. The question is whether someone will try and apply it more broadly in Michigan.

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