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Secure MI Vote and Let MI Kids Learn want to squeeze their initiatives through to the Legislature by the end of the year, but that seems unlikely. 

LANSING—Let MI Kids Learn, an initiative drive that would set up a tax-incentivized school voucher program, submitted signatures on Wednesday to the Michigan Board of State Canvassers in hopes that the Republican-controlled legislature can unilaterally pass the package by the end of the year.

The DeVos-funded proposal joins Secure MI Vote in pushing for a swift review of their signatures by the Bureau of Elections, despite having overshot the legal deadline to turn in signatures for 2022 by two months.

The two citizen-initiated drives with prominent conservative backers appear to share the same goal: to have the Michigan House and Senate vote them into law before the legislative session expires, circumventing a citizen vote and a governor veto.

“It’d be pretty darned nice to just get it over with,” Let Mi Kids Learn spokesperson Fred Wszolek told Bridge Michigan

Citizen-led initiatives must gather signatures within a 180-day window and submit them to the Department of State’s Bureau of Election for review. If the number of signatures is deemed sufficient—which is no guarantee in a year where fraud has spoiled other rolls—then the Board of Canvassers would sign off, giving the Legislature 40 days to either pass the proposal themselves or defer the question to voters in 2024.

The mechanism—whereby the Legislature can pass any citizen-led initiative with enough signatures through a simple majority vote—is totally legal, but voting rights advocacy groups have described it as a “loophole” that disenfranchises citizens.

“It’s completely anti-democratic,” said Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, a voters advocacy group that opposes Secure MI Vote. “It makes no sense with our system of government, because it allows a legislature like ours that is completely out of touch with what voters want pass laws that no one wants and do an end run around voters and the governor.”

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Since Secure MI Vote and Let MI Kids Learn missed the signature deadline, officials can now operate on a calendar based on the 2024 election cycle. The Board of State Canvassers has until 100 days prior to the 2024 election to provide the final sign off on the signatures. 

Let MI Kids Learn is a ballot initiative that would give a 1:1 tax break for donations to an educational scholarship fund, which would then be paid out to low-income families to help with expenses including tuition, transportation, and tutoring. Between tax breaks and the redirection of students to private schools, data suggests that public schools could lose $500 million in funding in its first year.

“I just wanted to express my excitement for where our children are going to be able to go from here,” said state Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton), who last fall sponsored a legislative package that mirrors Let MI Kids Learn, at the campaign’s press conference, where the sponsors announced that they’d turned in the required signatures. 

Theis was one of the sponsors of a pair of bills in 2021 which provided for the same program Let MI Kids Learn is now proposing as a citizen initiative. That pair of bills was vetoed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Secure MI Vote is a campaign for a law to more tightly regulate the election process, by requiring new forms of ID, ending donations for elections operations, and preventing churches and schools from volunteering space for voting. 

Organizers for both drives are eager to have their signatures reviewed before the 2022 election, with a sympathetic Legislature that passed bills resembling Let MI Kids Learn just last fall. But after the November elections, the makeup of Michigan’s legislative body could change, with both chambers projected to be highly competitive for the first time in a decade due to independent redistricting.

That’s the rush for these drives. If Republicans lose control of either legislative chamber, the chances are slim that Let MI Kids Learn or Secure MI Vote will pass a vote of lawmakers. And polling over the past 20 years has shown that Michigan’s citizens are against such programs—so their odds at the 2024 polls are also iffy.

“It’s our sincere hope that [Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson will] choose to review the signatures quickly,” Jamie Roe, spokesperson for Secure MI Vote, told The ‘Gander in July.

But before state agencies can get to these petitions, they need to fulfill numerous other legal requirements involved with reviewing signatures for constitutional amendment proposals that were submitted on time, in addition to preparing for the November General Election. Promote the Vote, a constitutional amendment campaign whose signatures are currently under review, would in fact supersede Secure MI Vote, creating a constitutional right to absentee ballots and early voting.

All in all, a number of approaching deadlines makes review seemingly unlikely.

“Initiatives that chose to submit petitions after the June 1 deadline will be reviewed when the Bureau of Elections has capacity and ahead of its deadline for the 2024 election,” said Tracy Wimmer, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of State, in a statement.