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Socialists Challenge Michigan Candidate Petition Requirements Amidst Pandemic Restrictions

In early April, I argued that requiring candidates and ballot question committees to circulate paper petitions face-to-face with voters during a pandemic, without extending deadlines or offering electronic petitions or other alternatives for ballot access, unconstitutionally abridges our right to participate in free and fair elections. No one has taken that argument up in court here in South Dakota, but socialist Presidential candidate Joseph Kishore and his running mate Norissa Santa Cruz are taking a swing at that contention in Michigan:

Yesterday, the Socialist Equality Party filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state of Michigan’s decision to enforce its 30,000-signature requirement for independent presidential candidates to gain ballot access despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which makes physical signature-gathering impossible.

…Attorney Eric Lee, who filed the suit and represents Kishore and Santa Cruz, told the World Socialist Web Site, “The state of Michigan is telling Joseph Kishore that he can only exercise his constitutional rights by risking his life and the lives of his campaign volunteers. A growing number of socialist voters in Michigan do not want to vote for Biden, Trump or any other capitalist candidate, and the U.S. Constitution affords them the right to cast a meaningful vote” [Socialist Equality Party, “SEP Candidates Kishore and Santa Cruz File Federal Lawsuit Challenging Ballot Access Laws in Michigan,” World Socialist Web Site, 2020.06.19].

The complaint explains the life-imperiling nuts and bolts of Michigan election law and the pandemic-prevention measures up against which they are:

Pursuant to Michigan election law, to appear on the general election ballot, Plaintiffs and other independent candidates are required to file a nominating petition with the Michigan Secretary of State’s office at 4 PM on the 110thday before the general election. MCL §168.590c(2). This year’s deadline is July 16, 2020—110 days before November 3. According to Defendants, the petition must include a minimum of30,000and up to 60,000signatures of qualified and registered electors in the State of Michigan. MCL §168.544f. The petition must also be signed by 100 registered electors in each of at least half of Michigan’s 14 congressional districts. MCL §168.590b(4). Signatures must be gathered within a 180-day period. MCL §168.590b(3)

On March 10, 2020, Governor Whitmer issued Executive Order 2020-4 declaring a state of emergency across Michigan. On April 1, 2020, Governor Whitmer issued Executive Order 2020-33, declaring both a state of emergency and a state of disaster across Michigan. On March 23, 2020, Governor Whitmer issued Executive Order 2020-21 (“Stay-at-Home Order”) requiring all individuals to “stay at home or at their place of residence”; banning non-essential work, business,and public and private gatherings;and mandating that individuals not go within six feet of each other outside of their homes. The Stay-at-Home Order made it a misdemeanor to violate these prohibitions. The order was extended on April 9, May 7 and May 22. Updated guidelines aimed at re-opening some businesses still ban gatherings of over 100 people and impose mandatory social distancing of six feet in public.

These restrictions effectively prohibit Plaintiffs and their supporters from gathering the signatures required to obtain ballot access in the November general election. Unless this Court intervenes, Michigan election law in conjunction with the Stay-at-Home Order will effectively bar Plaintiffs from appearing on the ballot, exclude their views from the electoral process, and suppress the socialist vote [Plaintiffs’ complaint, Kishore v. Whitmer, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, filed 2020.06.18].

Kishore and Santa Cruz ask the court to either order that their names be placed on Michigan’s ballot or, more democratically, “extend the filing deadline, decrease the signature requirements to a nominal number, waive the requirements relating to the geographic distribution of signatures, and allow for online signature gathering.”

Note that the plaintiffs do not cry “Liberate Michigan!” and demand suspension of the state’s pandemic responses. They evidently recognize that Governor Whitmer saved lives imposing Michigan’s coronavirus restrictions. But the plaintiffs recognize that when public health requires serious policy interventions, the state has an obligation to adjust its election laws to ensure that democracy survives with its citizens.

2 Comments

  1. Debbo 2020-06-21

    I think they’re right. The question is, how many Moscow Mitch Boys are judges in that district?

  2. jason 2020-06-22

    Participating in US democracy is a purge. Petition or protest and you risk getting killed by COVID, cops or militias.

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