Mich. board weighs how to summarize ballot issues
By DAVID EGGERT, Associated Press Writer
LANSING, August 12, 2008 (AP): Supporters and opponents of a constitutional amendment to reshape state government clashed before an elections board Tuesday over whether the measure can be explained to voters in 100 words.
A lawyer for Reform Michigan Government Now, which wants to put the sweeping proposal to a statewide vote in November, read a draft summary within the 100-word limit and said there is no requirement that every detail be included in the explanation read by voters at the polls.
The measure would cut the number of lawmakers and appellate judges, reduce their pay, alter how legislative seats are drawn and allow no-reason absentee voting. It would make other changes that would rewrite multiple parts of the state constitution, as well as adding new sections.
A lawyer for Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution told the Board of State Canvassers that the constitutional rewrite can't be fairly and accurately described in 100 words. The group led by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce has sued to block the issue from the ballot, saying the changes are too broad and can only be done at a constitutional convention.
Democrats and unions support the measure as a way to redraw legislative districts to favor Democrats after the 2010 census by lessening the influence of Republican-controlled appellate courts that typically review redistricting plans. The measure could be made more attractive to voters by including pay cuts and new ethical requirements for elected officials.
The lawsuit will be heard next week, but the elections panel is continuing with procedural matters such as drafting a summary of the proposal to be released next week. The board also will decide next week if Reform Michigan Government Now and two other petition drives collected enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
The board's staff is confident in reducing the Reform Michigan Government Now proposal to 100 words.
Elections director Chris Thomas acknowledged it will be a ``challenge'' summarizing what he said is probably the most wide-ranging proposal he has handled, but he said it can be done.
The board also heard testimony Tuesday on how to summarize measures to lift state restrictions on stem cell research and allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Only backers of the medical marijuana measure showed up to the hearing, as there appears to be no organized opposition to the proposal.
Lawyers disagreed, however, over the stem cell measure.
The Stem Cell Research Ballot Question Committee asked that the summary include a statement that Michigan's prohibition against cloning would remain in effect under the proposal.
An opposition group, Michigan Citizens Against Unrestricted Science and Experimentation, said the measure would not keep the Legislature from allowing cloning in the future.