COVID-19 tosses wrench in statewide petition drives 

Citizens’ bill for LGBTQ rights amendment moves to mailboxes 

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FRIDAY, March 20 — As social distancing precautions create challenges for efforts to collect petition signatures in Michigan, at least one statewide measure hasn’t given up on its plans to push forward with legislative change. 

Fair and Equal Michigan — a campaign to prohibit LGBTQ discrimination through an amendment to the state’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act — today announced plans to garner its required petition signatures by mail to “keep people safe while also fighting for equality” as COVID-19 continues to spread across most of Michigan. 

“This pandemic is a powerful reminder that we’re all in this together, no matter what we look like, where we live, or who we love,” campaign officials said in a statement released earlier this morning. “Thanks for doing your part to stay safe and healthy while we continue our effort toward equality for all.” 

Organizers still need to collect more than 200,000 signatures (of the required 340,047) to initiate legislation to amend the civil rights law. The goal: Send a proposal to clarify prohibitions on discriminatory practices to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the state legislature by May 27. 

If lawmakers ignore or reject it, the language would then head to the November ballot for voters to decide.  

Mail-in signature drives carry logistical challenges, including a need for a stronger commitment from voters that would otherwise only sign petitions in passing. With recommendations to maintain a six-foot distance from others amid a global pandemic, however, options are limited. No state legislation exists for online collection. 

Registered voters can fill out a form to receive up to two petitions from Fair and Equal Michigan by mail. The petitions will be mailed with instructions for filling them out and how they can be returned — all while “respecting the social distancing that this moment calls for,” campaign officials said. 

At Progress Michigan’s Lansing offices, efforts to “Close Lansing’s Loopholes,” are suspended altogether. The statewide petition drive aimed to improve lobbying, transparency and ethics laws in the legislature. And while organizers were busy collecting in-person signatures last week, that was before the virus spread into Michigan. 

“We had some volunteer signature collection going for a couple of weeks and then we did a big push around the primary,” said Sam Inglot, deputy director at Progress Michigan. “Obviously, with social distancing, it’s necessary to protect the public, so we decided to temporarily table our volunteer collection efforts.” 

Inglot said the campaign will pick back up again in 2022, at which point, volunteers at Progress Michigan will make another attempt to garner the required 425,059 signatures required for a state constitutional amendment.

“Collecting signatures usually requires conversation, handing off pens and paper, that sort of thing,” Inglot added. “That’s something we want to be cognizant of during this public health crisis, so we’re tabling those volunteer efforts for now. It’s a concern, but we’re talking about it as a coalition and looking at next steps.” 

The pandemic also presents a major obstacle for Fair Tax Michigan, a new group seeking to put a graduated income tax proposal on the November ballot, reports Bridge Magazine. The committee hasn’t started collecting signatures but yesterday asked legislators to tweak state laws to allow for electronic signatures during the crisis. 

Coronavirus precautions also pose challenges to political candidates that would require signatures to get listed on the ballot, though they typically require far fewer signatures at the local, state and even federal level. 

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