By The Associated Press
LANSING – The Board of State Canvassers ended a rowdy and controversial meeting Dec. 14 by failing to comply with a court order to put a proposal to ban some affirmative action programs in Michigan on the November 2006 ballot.
Now, however, the Democratic members of the Board are saying that they didn’t intend to disobey the court.
During the Dec. 14 meeting the four-member Board of State Canvassers deadlocked, with Republicans Katherine DeGrow and Lyn Bankes voting to put the measure before voters. Democrat Paul Mitchell voted against the measure and Democrat Doyle O’Connor did not vote.
However, in a memo to the state attorney general’s office, O’Connor and Mitchell say the meeting was improperly adjourned and ended in confusion during a loud protest by the measure’s opponents. They say they would support a move to “correct” the record of the meeting to indicate they voted in favor of a motion to follow the court order and certify the petitions from the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.
The memo says that O’Connor insisted nothing could be heard above the noise of the protesters and that DeGrow – the board’s chairwoman – “proceeded to announce supposed votes” of the four members.
The canvassers eventually voted after a nearly two-hour recess caused by a student protest led by adult organizers. Students chanted “No voter fraud” and “They say Jim Crow, we say hell no” to drown out canvassers when they first attempted to vote, knocking down an empty table where witnesses had testified earlier.
“We knew throughout that we would, as ordered, vote to crush these young people’s belief that the system would play fair,” the O’Connor/Mitchell memo says.
The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which is sponsoring the proposal, filed a motion late Nov. 14 with the Michigan Court of Appeals seeking a contempt order against O’Connor and Mitchell, and Republican lawmakers have called for removing the two Democrats from the board for not following the appeals court order.
Meanwhile, opponents of the proposal say they will ask the Michigan Supreme Court to investigate fraud allegations related to gathering of signatures by MCRI. They claim that MCRI misled voters — including many minorities — into thinking they were signing petitions to support affirmative action.
“From our standpoint, clearly there is fraud that transpired with the circulators, and that needs to be investigated,” said Trisha Stein, executive director of One United Michigan. “By whom is in question, but we feel strongly that the level of deception is real and is there, and our message is don’t be fooled. Michigan residents were fooled into signing the petition, and we are going to work very hard over the next 10 months to make sure that Michigan is not fooled again into supporting a divisive, and dangerous proposal that will limit opportunities for women and minorities to overcome discrimination in education, employment and contracting.”
Despite the fraud allegations, “Current case law and past practice indicates that it will be on the ballot, which is why we’re working so hard to build a statewide organization to defeat it,” Stein said. “There may be some slim chance, [that the anti-affirmative action measure won’t appear on the ballot] but we’re not counting on it.”
“I think that the probability is very high that it will end up on the ballot, but it still needs to finish the appeals process to the state supreme court. Everybody seems to be forgetting about (the appeals process),” said Kary Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.
As for the demonstrators, “I think they were very harmful,” Moss said. “I think it was very polarizing, which was unfortunate and unnecessary and distracted from a legitimate message, which is that these signatures were gathered by misleading people.”
Additional reporting by Dawn Wolfe Gutterman.