Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan Says Ballot Process Unconstitutional
Charlevoix, Michigan – The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, a statewide ballot initiative campaign (www.letsbanfracking.org), announces collecting over 207,000 in-person signatures from Michigan registered voters as of June 1. While not enough to get on the ballot for the 2016 election, the campaign announces it is continuing to gather signatures for the 2018 election, adding to the signatures already collected.
Also today, the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan sued election officials in state court on the constitutionality of restrictions on the signature-gathering time period. Defendants named are Director of Elections Christopher Thomas, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, and the Board of State Canvassers, a board appointed by the Governor.
Since November, campaign leaders have been uncovering the history of the statutory initiative process (initiative petitions that amend or create laws or statutes, as opposed to amending the state constitution). Despite Committee testimony and evidence presented at several meetings of the defendants, as well as the House Elections Committee, that the law restricting signature gathering to 180-days is unconstitutional, the defendants have not acted to remedy the error of treating constitutional and statutory initiatives the same way.
“We are conducting our campaign exactly as the framers of the state constitution envisioned and designed statutory initiative, not restricted by the Legislature. Citizen-led, grassroots initiatives like ours may take years to carry out a campaign, and carry an idea and proposal forward, face-to-face with fellow voters. Delegates to the 1961-62 constitutional convention wanted to make sure that big money and big organizations don’t always dominate. The constitution is on our side. There is no time period.”
Campaign director LuAnne Kozma points to highlights in the past six months that have advanced the campaign, despite a cold spring and long winter that hampered volunteer efforts. “We’ve been able to thoroughly vet our signatures, thanks to donors’ generosity, by hiring a company that verified signatures. We’ve removed most duplicate and invalid signatures, and are getting closer and closer to 100% validity,” Kozma said.
“Petitioners were greeted with increasing acceptance and enthusiasm, more places now understand the importance of free speech and stopping horizontal fracking and frack wastes. Residents have been organizing against drilling and frack waste facilities in Detroit and Southfield, and in Monroe and Mecosta counties. New volunteers have been joining us throughout the spring. We have passed the worst petitioning months of winter and are now in good shape with the summer upon us and many festival and events to gather more signatures. We urge Michiganders who care about getting fracking on the ballot to not sit back, but to donate and get involved gathering signatures,” Kozma added.
The gas and oil industry has been behind recent actions by the state legislature to restrict the circulation period to a strict 180 days, in an effort targeted to stop the Committee. The legislation (Senate Bill 776) passed both the Senate and the House and awaits action by the governor.
“Whether or not the governor signs SB 776, the legal issue of our case is that the constitution specifies no circulation period and the 180-day restriction curtails our right, with or without a rebuttable presumption. The case law allows no legislative ‘meddling’ with citizens’ constitutional right to statutory inititiave,” said Ellis Boal, the Committee’s legal counsel.
The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan has involved over 800 volunteer circulators from 60 counties. The campaign has garnered signers from every Michigan county and has relied on grassroots financial support from over 900 individual donors.
“It won’t be long before we go over the top, but we need more committed involvement and financial support from businesses, community-based organizations, resident groups, unions, and individuals to make the statewide ban on fracking and frack wastes on the ballot a reality,” said Kozma.
The Committee’s complaint will be available on the Committee’s website in the near future and is available upon request.
The ballot language can be found at the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s website www.letsbanfracking.org and also on the Michigan Secretary of State’s website.