Backers of a petition to let voters approve or repeal Michigan's controversial emergency manager law are making their case before a state appeals court Thursday morning.
Stand Up For Democracy, a coalition of union, community and religious groups that collected 226,000 signatures to put the measure on the November ballot, is asking the court to overturn a deadlocked decision by the state Board of Canvassers that prevented their petitions from being certified.
The group says Michigan's emergency manager law, which allows the state to take over financially distressed municipalities and school districts, undermines local democracy. Their petitions would place a question on the ballot asking voters to rescind the law.
But the four-member Board of Canvassers failed to certify the coalition's petitions, splitting 2-2 along party lines over a challenge that sought to disqualify the petitions based on font size. The conservative group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility claimed the font used in a portion of the petitions was not the state-mandated size 14.
The petitions' backers maintain they used the correct font size and say the two Republican board members' decision to vote against certification was politically motivated. The Secretary of State and the board's own staff recommended certification, noting previous challenges to type size and formatting of petitions had been unsuccessful, and the law recommends only "substantial compliance."
Now, Stand Up For Democracy is saying the state withheld evidence from the Board of Canvassers hearing, including an outside opinion that the petitions' font size was correct.
Chris Corneal, a graphic design professor at Michigan State University, says he was asked by the Secretary of State to review the challenge, and he confirmed to state officials that the font size was correct. But Corneal's findings never made it to the Board of Canvassers meeting, where experts on both sides testified on the font size question. Stand Up For Democracy says Corneal's sworn statement is barred from the Appeals Court hearing, too.
"This omission creates a bold-face lie," said AFSCME Council 25 President Al Garrett, a member of the coalition. “The republican representatives on the board said the font size was incorrect despite their own staff knowing that it was in fact correct. The result makes the board of canvassers hearing nothing more than a scam concocted to paint the picture that something was wrong with the petitions when in fact, nothing was wrong."
The appeals court will hear arguments on whether the typeface technicality should stand, or whether the petitions should be certified. If Stand Up For Democracy is successful, the emergency manager law would be frozen until the statewide vote in November.