A row of voting booths at a polling station. (Shutterstock)
A row of voting booths at a polling station. (Shutterstock)

MICHIGAN—With signatures recently submitted on two new constitutional amendments that are headed closer to the polls in November, and one other issue already in the pipeline, voters in Michigan could decide the fate of three separate ballot issues at the general election. Here’s what’s at stake this year:

The Michigan Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative 

Introduced by the group “Reproductive Freedom for All,” petitions for the “Michigan Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative” were turned in this month with 753,759 signatures—more than any collected for an amendment initiative in the state’s history.

If the signatures are deemed valid and the initiative is approved by a majority of voters in November, an amendment would be added to the state Constitution guaranteeing a right to reproductive freedom in Michigan. Under the Constitution, those changes would take effect 45 days later and would be immune from any amendments from lawmakers. 

The amendment defines “reproductive freedom” as “the right to make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy, including but not limited to prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion care, miscarriage management, and infertility care.” Notably, the state would still be able to regulate abortion after fetal viability. The amendment would also prevent the state from banning the use of abortion to protect the life or physical or mental health of the mother. Healthcare professionals would be tasked with deciding if those criteria have been met.

Promote the Vote

This initiative was introduced by a coalition of Michigan voting rights groups, including the League of Women Voters and the American Federation of Teachers, under the name “Promote the Vote.” The overarching idea: Make it easier for Michiganders to vote.

Specifically, the petition effort aims to cement many existing rights into the state Constitution that enables residents to vote without harassment; requires military and overseas ballots to be counted if postmarked by Election Day; and gives voters the option to verify their identities with either a photo ID or a signed statement. It would also allow voters to file one request for absentee ballots by mail for all future elections.

Other key elements of the initiative include new requirements for: secure ballot drop boxes and absentee ballot tracking; election audits to be conducted in public by state and county election officials; nine days of in-person early voting; and canvassing boards to certify election results based only on the official record of cast votes in the election. 

Promote the Vote collected 669,972 signatures in support of their proposal.

tate would still be able to regulate abortion after fetal viability. The amendment would also prevent the state from banning the use of abortion to protect the life or physical or mental health of the mother. Healthcare professionals would be tasked with deciding if those criteria have been met.

Voters for Transparency and Term Limits

State lawmakers voted in May to send this issue to the polls at the November election. 

If approved by a majority of voters, the measure would expand opportunities for state legislators to serve a longer duration in the Senate and House. Current term limits restrict lawmakers to no more than three, two-year House terms and two, four-year Senate terms—for a total maximum of 14 years serving as an elected state lawmaker.

The amendment would reduce that total to 12 years, but allow lawmakers to serve up to six, two-year House terms; three, four-year Senate terms—or a combination. A broad base of supporters think the changes would allow lawmakers to focus more on building governance experience rather than running reelection campaigns or finding a new job.

The amendment would also require additional financial reporting requirements for elected leaders—including details about all sources of income (and promised income) for state lawmakers, the governor, the secretary of state and the attorney general.

What about everything else?

Several voter-initiated ballot initiatives failed to collect enough signatures to make the ballot this November, including most recently a proposal to limit interest rates on payday loans.

But the organizers behind at least one petition drive have vowed to still submit signatures to the State Legislature this year. Because of a rare loophole in the state Constitution, Republicans could effectively force the changes into law by a simple majority vote, with no risk of being vetoed by the governor.

Let MI Kids Learn

This Betsy DeVos-funded petition effectively seeks to divert millions of taxpayer dollars away from public schools and instead direct them into private and charter schools using an indirect funding mechanism referred to as “scholarship granting organizations.”

The Michigan Constitution currently prohibits the use of public funds in private schools, including in the form of tax benefits or tax credits. This initiative would amend state law to allow for wealthy donors like DeVos to donate funds to support private schools in exchange for sweeping tax breaks for the full size of each donation.

The plan could hit taxpayers hard, costing Michigan $500 million in 2022 and more than $1 billion annually by year five, according to a recent Senate Fiscal Agency analysis.

Nearly 1 million school children could qualify for the program, but the effort would disproportionately benefit private school students, who could get up to 90% of the state’s minimum base for per-pupil funding—$9,150 for the 2022-2023 school year. In contrast, public school students would get only a maximum of $500 per year, or $1,100 if they have a disability.

The petition drive missed the June 1 deadline to submit signatures to allow it to appear on the November ballot. Paid signature gatherers involved in the drive have also been accused of misleading voters about what the initiative is about—but it could still become law. 

Organizers of the effort have said that they plan to exploit a quirk in the state constitution that allows them to present their initiative to the Republican-led legislature later this year, which could then implement the sweeping policy changes without Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s approval. The governor would also be unable to veto the proposal.