You have likely encountered petition circulators outside government buildings, in shopping centers or at public parks seeking enough signatures to get a particular proposal to appear on the ballot in the next election cycle. These proposals can involve any number of issues from term limits to tax credits, and from curtailing governmental powers to even creating new decision-making bodies. Many circulators are happy to stop and talk about why their particular cause should make it on the ballot.
But here is something that most Michigan voters do not know. Petition circulators can lie or mislead you. They can say whatever they need to say to get you to put your signature on that petition. There are isolated reports every year where prospective voters have even captured petition circulators on video that inaccurately describe what their initiative is all about. In some cases, the circulator is stating that the proposal covers a topic that is not even contained in the plain text of the petition itself. Despite what should seem as an actionable offense, there is simply no recourse. Michigan law does not have any prohibition against volunteer or paid petition circulators lying or misleading the public on the substance of their ballot proposal.
These concerns have become serious enough during the 2022 election cycle for the Michigan Secretary of State and the Michigan Attorney General to publicly comment on it. There are also bills being introduced in the Michigan Legislature aiming to regulate the practice and impose penalties against petition circulators that knowingly mislead people in order to obtain a signature. One senate bill sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Moss seeks to hold ballot committees responsible for paid or volunteer circulators from making false statement about the contents of the petition. Another senate bill sponsored by Sen. Mallory McMorrow seeks to create a mechanism to allow voters who signed a petition to remove their name from it by filing a written request with local election officials up to the point the petition is filed. Finally, yet another senate bill sponsored by Sen. Adam Hollier would ban payment of petition circulators per signature and remove a significant incentive to make false representations. All of these bills have only been recently introduced and do not have the force of law until they have fully passed through the lawmaking process.
Until additional legal measures are passed by the Michigan Legislature and signed by the governor, voters are left to contend for themselves. If you are asked to sign a petition, you should read it yourself to verify its contents instead of relying on the petition circulator to explain it to you. There is no recourse if your valid signature ends up on a ballot proposal that you did not actually approve of. Your signature will not be invalidated simply because the petition circulator used unethical means to get you to sign on. Like nearly all other aspects of your life, you are best advised to read something in its entirety before you sign your name to it.
If you have further questions about election law or need legal representation, then do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.