Senate panel approves initiative petition processing, clerk training bills

LANSING, Mich. — The Senate Elections Committee this week approved Sen. Ruth Johnson’s legislation to ensure citizen initiative petitions are processed within 100 days of being submitted to the secretary of state.

“The people of Michigan can directly propose legislation through a citizens’ initiative, and they deserve to have their efforts reviewed in a prompt and professional manner,” said Johnson, who served as Michigan secretary of state from 2011 to 2018. “Unfortunately, under the leadership of Secretary Benson, it has taken six to nine months to process the petition signatures for the last two citizen initiatives.”

The citizen initiative group Unlock Michigan submitted their signatures to the state on Oct. 2, 2020, but Benson’s office did not complete their review of signatures until April 19, 2021. Another group, Fair and Equal Michigan, submitted their signatures less than two weeks later on Oct. 13, 2020, but their petition was not presented to the State Board of Canvassers by Benson’s office until July 13, 2021 nine months after it was submitted.

“It is embarrassing and inexcusable that it is taking more time for the department to review the signatures than it took for the citizens to gather them,” Johnson said.

Senate Bill 280 would require the Board of State Canvassers to complete the canvass of an initiative petition within 100 days after the petition is filed with the Secretary of State’s office. It would also require any petition filed no later than 160 days from the general election to have its canvass completed no later than 100 days before that election.

“The average processing time historically is about 100 days, so I think that is a good standard to ensure citizen initiatives are considered fairly,” Johnson said. “It’s your job as secretary of state to be impartial, if citizens gather the signatures you need to process them in a timely manner. We did a petition in 53 days in 2018 when we needed to.”

The Senate committee also approved SB 306, which would require the secretary of state to prepare a report regarding clerks who are not current with training and post the report online.

“Clerks are required to complete election training courses and continuing education to ensure they understand the law and the technology that is vital to running a safe and secure election,” Johnson said. “The majority of clerks do a great job in meeting these training requirements, but this measure adds needed transparency and extra pressure for those clerks who may not be meeting the requirements to get the training they are supposed to before conducting elections in our state.”

SBs 280 and 306 now head to the full Senate for consideration.

###