The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan (CBFM) began its campaign in 2015 with the goal of placing a ban on hydraulic fracturing in Michigan on the 2016 ballot. The group failed to collect the 252,523 signatures needed within the required 180 days to get the issue placed on the ballot in 2016. CBFM challenged the state’s 180-day window to collect signatures, but the court rejected the challenge as “premature” because the group had not collected enough signatures. The group then set their sights on the 2018 election, continuing to collect new signatures with the hopes that the combination of new and old signatures would be enough to reach the required amount by May of 2018. The group, however, again failed to collect the necessary signatures. On November 5, 2018, the day before the general election, CBFM tried to file its petition for placement on the November 2020 ballot, 5 years after it first began collecting signatures. The state rejected the signatures because the petitions stated that the proposal would be voted on in the 2016 general election, rendering the petition “defective and untimely”.
On December 27, 2018, the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan (CBFM) filed a lawsuit in the Court of Claims. This suit, their third since 2015, asserted that Former Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and Sally Williams, then Director of Elections for Michigan’s Department of State wrongfully rejected CBFM’s petition signatures and refused to notify the Board of State Canvassers that CBFM had filed a petition.
On Thursday, March 8, 2019 Attorney General Dana Nessel asked the Court to dismiss the lawsuit and defended the state’s previous decision to reject the signatures submitted by the group.
As the Brief reads,
The Defendants are entitled to dismissal of the claims as a matter of law, and in support of their motion state as follows:
- This is the plaintiff’s third lawsuit involving their inability, since November 2015, to file a timely and sufficient petition to initiative legislation to ban hydraulic fracturing in Michigan.
- As in other cases, Plaintiffs raise statutory and constitutional claims, and allege that Secretary Johnson and Director Williams improperly rejected their petition for filing in November of 2018.
- But Plaintiff’s petition contains a facial defect, an incorrect election date that rendered it defective and untimely. Under these circumstances, Secretary Johnson and Director Williams were empowered by statute to reject the petition for filing and did so.
- And Regardless of the defect and Plaintiff’s other concerns, the filing of Plaintiff’s petition is bared by MCL 168.471, which provides that “[s]ignatures on a petition... to initiate legislation collected prior to a November general election at which a governor is elected shall not be filed after the date of that November general election.” Because Plaintiff’s signatures were all collected before the November 2018 General Election, they cannot now be filed with the Secretary of State.
- Because the statutory claims and issues are dispositive, it is unnecessary for this Court to address any of the constitutional claims raised by the Plaintiffs, including their challenge to the 180-day circulation rule set forth in MCL 168.472a.
In summation, regardless of the issues with the petition and the failure to meet the 180 day requirement, because the signatures were collected before the November 2018 General Election, an election in which a new governor was elected, the signatures can no longer be filed. The new signature threshold that will apply to proposals for the 2020 General Election will be set at 340,047 (8% of the votes cast in the election for the Governor in the last election, 2018). It is unclear whether the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan will launch another petition campaign or continue to challenge the rulings in the court.