Capitol News

November 6, 2022

By the time you read this in print, our airwaves and various inboxes will be liberated from incessant political ads and hopefully we will have newly elected, undisputed officeholders in Michigan and the U.S. Congress. The newly elected State Senators and State Representatives who will begin their service in mid-January will have met informally in their respective party caucuses November 10 to elect their leaders for the 102nd Michigan Legislature.

SOME POST-ELECTION EXPECTATIONS

Every ballot is “chaperoned” by representatives from the two major parties from beginning to end in Michigan. The Secretary of State’s website at www.michigan.gov/sos/elections has complete information containing pre- and post-election requirements. The following is a brief description of what goes on in November and December after the election.

County Board of Canvassers — Each county’s Board of Canvassers is composed of four members from the two major parties — two Republicans and two Democrats — who are appointed by the County Commission. The county Board of Canvassers is required to begin meeting two days after an election (November 10) to review and certify the election results from the city and township clerks within their county.

Michigan uses all paper ballots. The paper ballot tabulators print out paper records, leaving a paper trail election officials can consult if reporting errors occur. Precincts that are out-of-balance — where the number of ballots does not match the official poll book number of those who voted — cannot be subject to a recount, so city and township election officials spend the necessary time tracking down errant vote totals and any problems surfaced in the review. After review, three of the four Board members must certify the results. Election results must be forwarded by two weeks after Election Day (November 23) to the Michigan Secretary of State, Bureau of Elections. If a county Board of Canvassers cannot certify the results in time, they must turn them over to the Bureau of Elections, which will have to finish reviewing the results within 10 days of receiving the county results.

Candidates for local positions certified by the county Board of Canvassers may request a recount within six days after county certification. Recounts are supervised by the Bureau of Elections. Recounts must be completed within 30 days.

Bureau of Elections — The Bureau of Elections collects the county election results, reviews them, helps counties with error problems, and makes a recommendation for the Michigan Board of State Canvassers. The Bureau intervenes in those cases where a county Board of Canvassers does not certify election results.

Board of State Canvassers — The Michigan Board of State Canvassers is appointed by the Governor with consent of the Michigan Senate from recommendations made by the two major parties. There are two Republicans and two Democrats on the Board who serve four-year terms. The Board meets 20 days after the election (November 28) to act on the Bureau of Elections recommendations regarding certification of county election results.

Three of the four Board members need to vote Yes to certify the election. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled in September the Board of State Canvassers has only “ministerial” duties and cannot adjudicate legal disputes. If the Board fails to certify, the Secretary of State Bureau of Elections will seek Michgan Supreme Court intervention.

Candidates for positions certified by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers may request a recount within 48 hours after state certification. A recount of all precincts in the state is triggered automatically if the difference between the first- and second-place candidates for statewide races is 2,000 votes or fewer. Similarly, such differences over ballot proposals will also trigger an automatic recount.

Statewide elected officials will be inaugurated at noon on January 1, 2023. Ballot proposals amending the Michigan Constitution go into effect 45 days after Election Day (December 23).

POLL OBSERVING

This was the election where Republicans distrustful of elections were training Election Challengers to keep watch on election poll workers and Democrats were training Election Challengers to keep watch on the election poll workers and the Republican Election Challengers. Yet others were watching all of them.

Due to continued suspicion about the 2020 presidential voting even though over 60 legal challenges were rejected by the courts and the Republican-led Michigan Senate Oversight Committee found no election fraud, many more political organizations recruited, trained, and deployed Election Challengers this year. Election Challengers are registered voters appointed by State political parties, ballot proposal campaigns, and other organizations like the League of Women Voters to observe elections in voting precincts and absentee counting boards.

New Poll Watcher Guidance Challenged — In September, the Michigan Republican Party, the Republican National Committee, and other Republican-aligned Election Challengers sued Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson over a revised poll watcher guidance she issued in May and used for the August primary. Plaintiffs’ chief complaints were that the manual included (1) a new uniform challenger-credential form, (2) a requirement that challengers only communicate with an election inspector designated the “challenger liaison,” (3) a section allowing political parties to appoint or credential challengers at any time until Election Day but not on Election Day, and (4) a ban on cell phones in absent voter counting boards.

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Brock Swartzle agreed that the Department of State exceeded its authority but granted some narrow relief. He ordered that the Department would have the discretion to either rescind the May 2022 manual in its entirety, revise the May 2022 manual to comply with the order, or revise the October 2020 version to reach compliance. The State appealed his decision and asked for expedited review in light of the impending election. The Michigan Supreme Court held on November 3 that the poll challenger guidance issued by the Department of State would stay in place for the November 8 general election pending completion of appeals in the case.

ABSENTEE BALLOT CHALLENGE

Republican Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo filed a lawsuit on October 28 against the City of Detroit alleging Detroit’s absentee ballot system’s flaws were sufficient to bar Detroit voters from voting absentee unless they pick up and drop off their ballots in person. At the time of filing there were 79,000 absentee ballots issued by the City of Detroit Clerk and 43,000 returned.

Two days of contentious court testimony were held on November 3 and 4. Defendants pointed out that Detroit follows the same processes as the rest of the state. Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a brief in the case saying the plaintiff’s claims are grounded in misinterpretations of the law. “The city of Detroit’s use of absent voter counting boards is a process specifically authorized by the Michigan Legislature, and used by multiple jurisdictions for years,” she said in the brief. In an opinion issued November 7 in Karamo v. Winfrey (Docket No. 22-012759), Wayne Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny wrote that Karamo and her attorneys did not provide evidence in any of the 12 alleged election code violations and dismissed the lawsuit.

CAMPAIGN SPENDING SETS NEW RECORDS

State Legislative Races — As of mid-October, Michigan tops the nation in spending for state legislative races according to AdImpact Politics, with 11 different contests seeing $500,000 in total spending. Democrats held a strong spending advantage, with candidates shelling out $22.4 million compared to $6.6 million from Republicans, AdImpact data shows. In the Senate, candidates have spent a total of $22 million ahead of the general election. Spending on the House side hasn’t reached the same heights as spending on the Senate races.

Proposal 3 — Proposal 3, the reproductive rights measure, was the most expensive race in Michigan this year, generating $57 million in contributions from supporters and opponents, according to campaign finance reports released October 23. Late contributions are likely to push that total well over $60 million. Bridge Michigan reports that total is more than the high-profile campaigns for governor, secretary of state, and attorney general combined. Candidates in those races raised a total of $56 million for the November 8 election by the October 23 reporting period. Moreover, expenditures on Proposal 3 were the highest of any proposed ballot issue in Michigan history.

LAME DUCK SESSION

Lame duck session begins for current legislators on November 28 and continues through December 22 if needed. However, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey recently said he wasn’t expecting many “fireworks” this year. He anticipated a year-end book closing supplemental appropriations package that might contain some infrastructure spending. He would personally like to see his proposed integration of physical and mental health services move, a measure with strong opposition by some mental health advocates. If Proposal 3 was defeated, he expected some amendments to the 1931 abortion ban law next legislative session starting in January.

SERA hopes the Legislature will take up during lame duck Senate Bill 775 to eliminate the $300 cap on defined benefit (DB) retirees’ annual cost-of-living increase. The elimination of that one sentence would mean DB retirees would receive 3 percent annual COLAs like the school employees do. Please contact your State Senator to urge this measure be addressed in the remaining days of this Legislature.

REDISTRICTING COMMISSION UPDATE

Faced with no funding for the 2022-23 fiscal year that began October 1, and continuously mounting legal fees, the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission on October 27 unanimously approved a motion to grant its executive director and its legal team the authority to take all necessary action to compel the Michigan Legislature to appropriate necessary funds as required by the constitutional amendment setting up the Commission. The legislative appropriations committees informed the Commission earlier that its request came seven weeks after the Legislature passed its budget.

Critics of the Commission question why it is still in existence after it finalized maps for the Legislature and U.S. House in December 2021. Commissioners point to pending lawsuits as well as future ones that could be brought following the first elections with the new maps. The Commission has taken some action to reduce its costs, including a salary reduction for Commissioners and reduction of staff.

Update on Pending Lawsuits — The Commission is facing two lawsuits over its maps, both in the federal courts. The first is Agee v. Benson (USWDM Docket No. 22-00272), which is still pending before a three-judge panel in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan concerning potential Voting Rights Act violations. It is set to see some action as discovery items are due in December.

The second is Banerian v. Benson (SCOTUS Docket No. 22-92) appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It concerns whether the Commission properly allotted an equal distribution of voters among U.S. Congressional districts. The justices decided on November 7 to dismiss the appeal as “moot,” without further explanation, meaning the case no longer presented an open legal question.

KIDNAPPING PLOTTERS FOUND GUILTY

After about five hours of deliberation, three men were found guilty October 26 by a Jackson County jury of materially aiding a terrorist and being a member of a gang as part of a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. They each face up to 42 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for December 15.

Editor’s note: Mary Pollock is the Lansing SERA Chapter and SERA Coordinating Council’s Legislative Representative. She may be contacted at michigansera@comcast.net.

Michigan SERA Recent News, a compilation of links to articles of interest to state employees, is no longer produced.

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