By The Associated Press
LANSING – The Michigan Senate passed legislation March 23 stripping powers from the state elections board, a backlash against Democratic members who’ve been criticized for the way they handled an anti-affirmative action ballot measure. Democratic members were also criticized for their votes on an anti-gay marriage ballot measure in 2004.
The Republican-led Senate voted along party lines to send the legislative package to the House, which has already approved some of the bills. Democrats opposed the legislation.
The proposal would shift responsibility for putting ballot issues before Michigan voters from the Board of State Canvassers to the state Bureau of Elections.
The four-member canvassers board has two Democrats and two Republicans, leading to partisan splits in recent years over controversial ballot issues.
Last year, the Democratic board members initially refused to comply with a court order to place a constitutional amendment banning some affirmative action programs on this November’s ballot, citing concerns that signature gatherers misrepresented the proposal to minorities and others.
Sen. Alan Cropsey, a DeWitt Republican and lead sponsor of the legislation, said it would remove the certification process from an “out-of-control” Board of State Canvassers.
Democrats said the bills were partisan, adding that the state elections director – who would be responsible for approving ballot petitions – reports to Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, a Republican.
Sen. Buzz Thomas, a Detroit Democrat, said Democratic members of the board were right to be concerned about possible fraud on the part of those who gathered signatures to put the anti-affirmative action measure on the ballot.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm last year vetoed a bill that would have stopped the elections board from considering the merits or politics of a ballot proposal when deciding whether to send it to voters.
Granholm said the measure could interfere with the canvassers’ ability to review petitions, hold hearings on complaints and conduct investigations of petitions.
The elections board bills are House Bills 5648-50 and Senate Bills 973-76.