There is currently no penalty for a ballot canvasser who misrepresents to the public the facts of his or her petition, and Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. wants to change that.
Right now, canvassers are out in force collecting signatures for an effort to legalize marijuana and repeal the state’s prevailing wage law, which sets wages on the state’s publicly funded construction projects.
There have been reports about prevailing wage repeal signature gatherers misrepresenting what the petition and the law are about to voters. Within the last week, the Great Lakes Beacon has confirmed two such instances in Downtown Lansing alone.
Jeff Wiggins, state director of the Associated Builders and Contractors, which is leading the effort to repeal prevailing wage, told Lansing political newsletter MIRS it planned to find out who one of these signature collectors were and immediately fire the individual. This is the third effort by opponents of the prevailing wage, like ABC, to repeal it.
But as Sen. Hertel (D-East Lansing) notes, this is far from the first time people have misled the public about a ballot proposal, and unless something is done, it won’t be the last.
“During the prevailing wage signature collection last year, we heard these same stories over and over again of people being lied to,” Hertel said. “The idea that someone is going to sit down with a petition, which are usually being collected outside a post office or festival, and read all the words and have a competent understanding of it isn’t reasonable. While I can understand partisan slant, that’s not what happened here and not what happens often.”
Hertel has introduced SB 395 to make it a misdemeanor if an individual is caught mischaracterizing a ballot proposal. The problem? The bill was sent to the Senate Elections and Government Reform Committee, headed by Sen. Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc), who is a lead sponsor on a bill to repeal the state’s prevailing wage.
A request for comment through Robertson’s chief of staff on whether the senator would take the bill up or thought it had merit was not returned.
“All we heard from their side is that they fired this one petitioner, which I’d like to know, how many petitions are going to be collected? Are they still going to turn this (collection) in, where a reporter was lied to?” Hertel said.
Hertel acknowledged that proving the lie or mischaracterization would be difficult, but if it could be proven, he said, “I think that should be punishable.”
“For me, this is an issue of voters deserving not to be deceived in this process,” he said. “When (petition gathering) was designed by the framers of the Michigan Constitution, they weren’t thinking of special interests. They were thinking of the peoples’ ability to petition their government.”
By Danielle Emerson