- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Groups collecting signatures for statewide ballot drives could submit those only collected within a firm 180-day period under legislation passed by a divided House Wednesday and expected to land on Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk soon.

The bill, which would take effect immediately if signed, is a response to a marijuana legalization ballot committee’s plan to try to more easily qualify old signatures.

The Board of State Canvassers last week deadlocked on allowing petition backers to use a digital voter registration database to rebut a presumption that signatures older than 180 days are void or stale - which has effectively served as a 180-day limit in practice for decades. It would have been an easier process than visiting local clerks across the state to get an affidavit showing that an individual voter was registered both at the time they signed the petition and during the 180-day window.

GOP House Speaker Kevin Cotter said setting a hard 180-day period is “straightforward” guidance, and it should not be a problem for ballot organizers to gather enough signatures within that timeframe if voters are supportive.

“It should not be easy to amend the constitution,” he said. Listening to Democrats’ criticism, Cotter said, “you would think we were completely turning the system on its head” when groups historically have not used the rebuttal procedure for old signatures.

Democrats, though, accused majority Republicans of diminishing citizens’ power because of the party’s opposition to current efforts to put an anti-fracking proposal and the marijuana legalization measure on the November ballot. Their deadline to file is June 1.

“Think about what this does down the line. … Think about maintaining power vested in the people,” said Democratic Rep. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor.

Rep. Sam Singh, an East Lansing Democrat who unsuccessfully tried amending the legislation so it would not go into effect until 2017, called it “another example of Republican disregard for the will of the people.”

This election cycle, initiated legislation requires 252,523 valid voter signatures and constitutional amendments need 315,654 signatures. It typically is difficult to qualify without having the needed money to hire people to circulate petitions.

The bill won approval 57-52 almost entirely along party lines. Six Republicans joined Democrats in opposition.

The Senate passed the legislation in March and is expected to send it to the governor as early as Thursday. Snyder, a Republican, “will need to review the final version of the bill that comes to his desk and make a decision at that time,” spokesman Ari Adler said.

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Associated Press writer Michael Gerstein contributed to this report.

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Online:

Senate Bill 776: https://1.usa.gov/1LwCbLw

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Follow David Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/david-eggert


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