Articles Posted in Election Law

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Voters Not Politicians (VNP) was a ballot-question committee. It filed the initiative petition at issue in this case with defendant Michigan Secretary of State. The initiative proposal would, among other things, amend Const 1963, art 4, section 6, which established a commission to regulate legislative redistricting. The commission prescribed by Michigan's present Constitution was inactive because the Michigan Supreme Court declared that it could not be severed from apportionment standards contained in the Michigan Constitution that had been held to be unconstitutional. After that ruling, the Supreme Court oversaw redistricting until the Legislature took control of the process. VNP’s proposal would bring Michigan’s constitutional redistricting standards in line with federal constitutional requirements and revive the redistricting commission’s authority to set redistricting plans for the state house, state senate, and federal congressional districts. A sufficient number of registered electors signed the petition for it to be placed on the November 2018 general election ballot. Before the Board of State Canvassers could certify the petition for placement on the ballot, plaintiff Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution (CPMC), along with other plaintiffs, filed a complaint for a writ of mandamus directing the Secretary of State and the Board to reject the VNP proposal. CPMC argued that the proposal was not an amendment of the Constitution that could be proposed by petition under Const 1963, art 12, section 2; rather, the proposal amounted to a “general revision” of the Constitution and could be enacted only through a constitutional convention under Const 1963, art 12, section 3. The Court of Appeals granted the request by VNP and other parties to intervene as defendants and to file a cross-complaint seeking a writ of mandamus requiring the proposal to be placed on the ballot. The Supreme Court took this case to determine whether the VNP petition was a constitutionally permissible voter-initiated amendment under Const 1963, art 12, section 2, and concluded after a thorough review, that VNP's proposal was a permissible voter-initiated amendment. View "Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution v. Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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Edward Pinkney was charged with five felony counts of election forgery, and six misdemeanor counts of making a false statement in a certificate-of-recall petition, all for having submitted petitions with falsified dates in connection in an effort to recall the mayor of Benton Harbor, Michigan. After defendant was bound over to court for trial, he moved to quash the charges, arguing that MCL 168.937 was a penalty provision and not a substantive, chargeable offense. The court denied the motion. Defendant was convicted by jury on all five counts of election forgery but acquitted of all six counts of making a false statement in a certificate-of-recall petition. Defendant was sentenced as a fourth-offense habitual offender to concurrent prison terms of 30 to 120 months. The Court of Appeals upheld defendant’s convictions, holding that MCL 168.937 created the substantive offense of election-law forgery. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed, however, finding that MCL 168.937, by its plain language, was only a penalty provision; it did not set forth a substantive offense. As a result, defendant was not properly charged under that provision with the substantive offense of election-law forgery. Therefore, his convictions had to be vacated and the charges dismissed. View "Michigan v. Pinkney" on Justia Law

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Defendant Brandon Hall was hired by a prospective judicial candidate to gather nominating signatures of qualified voters in the 2012 election for the 58th District Court. By the evening before the May 1, 2012 deadline to file the nominating petitions, defendant had not gathered the 1,000 signatures necessary to nominate the candidate. That night, defendant filled in blank nominating petitions with false names and addresses and then signed the petitions with those false names. Defendant was aware that false elector names and signatures appeared on the petitions but nonetheless signed each as the circulator, certifying that each petition had been properly circulated and actually signed by qualified voters. The petitions were ultimately filed with the Bureau of Elections on May 1. The State charged defendant with 10 counts of forgery under MCL 168.937, bringing a separate felony count for each of the 10 forged nominating petitions. Defendant was arraigned on these charges. The prosecutor moved to bind the case over to the Ottawa Circuit Court for trial, and defendant objected. Defendant argued that the stipulated facts accepted by the district court supported only misdemeanor charges under MCL 168.544c. After a hearing on the motion, the district court denied the motion to bind defendant over for trial on the felony charges. The district court concluded that MCL 168.937 only imposed felony liability for prohibited conduct expressly identified as “forgery” elsewhere in the Michigan Election Law. After its review, the Michigan Supreme Court concluded that there was no conflict between MCL 168.544c and MCL 168.937. Instead, the Legislature has provided differing punishments for two distinct offenses, and each applied independently to prohibit defendant’s conduct. Accordingly, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded this case to the 58th District Court for further proceedings. View "Michigan v. Feeley" on Justia Law

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Defendant Paul Seewald and alleged coconspirator Don Yowchuang worked in the district office of former Congressman Thaddeus McCotter during McCotter’s 2012 reelection campaign. Michigan election law required McCotter to submit at least 1,000 valid voter signatures before the Secretary of State could certify his placement on the ballot. Defendant and Yowchuang bore some responsibility for collecting those signatures and submitting them to the Secretary of State. The day before the nominating petitions were due, defendant and Yowchuang realized that several of the petitions had not been signed by their circulator, and agreed to sign the petitions as circulators, even though they had not circulated the petitions themselves. Defendant was charged with nine counts of falsely signing nominating petitions (misdemeanor), and one count of conspiring to commit a legal act in an illegal manner (felony). Following a preliminary examination, the trial court bound defendant over to the Wayne Circuit Court as charged. Defendant moved to quash the information on the felony charge. The circuit court granted his motion and dismissed the felony charge against him, concluding that there had been no conspiracy to commit a legal act. The Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished opinion, agreeing that the prosecution could not show an agreement to commit a legal act. The Supreme Court granted the prosecution’s application for leave to appeal. The issue before the Supreme Court reduced to what alleged conduct was sufficient to warrant a bindover on the peculiar charge of “conspiring to commit a legal act in an illegal manner.” In an "anomalous" reversal of roles, defendant argued that his aim was illicit through and through, that he never agreed to commit any legal act. Rather he conspired to commit an illegal act illegally; and that double illegality should have set him free. The prosecution argued that while defendant’s agreed-to means were illegal, his conspiratorial ends were legal; and that legality was sufficient to try him as a felon. The irony was not lost on the Supreme Court. After examining the conspiracy statute, the Court held that the conduct alleged provided probable cause for trial on the charge. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the Wayne Circuit Court for reinstatement of the district court's order to bind defendant over and for further proceedings. View "Michigan v. Seewald" on Justia Law

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In four cases, each involving a ballot proposal to amend the Michigan Constitution, the issue before the Supreme Court was whether the groups proposing the amendments properly exercised their right to petition for constitutional amendments in compliance with the constitutional and statutory safeguards. Upon review of the cases, the Court reaffirmed prior caselaw holding that an existing provision is only altered when the amendment actually adds to, deletes from, or changes the wording of the provision. Furthermore, the Court reaffirmed that an amendment only abrogates an existing provision when it renders that provision wholly inoperative. Applying the meanings of "alter" and "abrogate" to the cases at issue, the Court concluded that none of the ballot proposals altered an existing provision of the Constitution because none of them actually "add to, delete from, or change the existing wording of the provision . . . ." View "Protect Our Jobs v. Bd. of State Canvassers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Stand Up for Democracy petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to compel the Board of State Canvassers to certify its referendum petition for inclusion on the November 2012 ballot. Intervening defendant Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, challenged the certification of plaintiff’s referendum petition, alleging that it failed to comply with the type-size requirement of MCL 168.482(2) and that the doctrine of substantial compliance, whereby technical deficiencies are resolved in favor of certification, did not apply. The Court of Appeals agreed with both assertions, but concluded it was required to follow its decision in "Bloomfield Charter Township v Oakland County Clerk" and conclude that the petition substantially complied with MCL 168.482(2) and that certification was required. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed, overturning "Bloomfield Charter" and dismissed the case: "because MCL 168.482(2) uses the mandatory term 'shall' and does not, by its plain terms, permit certification of deficient petitions with regard to form or content, a majority of [the] Court [held] that the doctrine of substantial compliance is inapplicable to referendum petitions submitted for certification." View "Stand Up for Democracy v. Mich. Sec'y of State" on Justia Law

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Former Governor Jennifer Granholm appointed Defendant Judge Hugh Clarke to the district court. The Attorney General claimed that Defendant was not entitled to hold office beyond January 1, 2011, and brought a quo warranto action to oust him. The Supreme Court found that Defendant is entitled under state law to hold the office of district judge until January 1, 2013. The Court dismissed the Attorney Generalâs quo warranto action.