Planned Parenthood group challenges validity of anti-abortion petition signatures

A committee formed by Planned Parenthood Advocates is challenging the signatures collected for a Right to Life petition proposal that would ban dilation and evacuation abortions, alleging the petition has dozens of duplicate, misdated and unregistered signatures. 

The Coalition to Protect Access to Care, a ballot committee formed by Planned Parenthood Advocates to oppose the petition, filed a formal complaint Monday with the Michigan Bureau of Elections. 

It is the first time anyone has challenged a petition initiative led by Right to Life, which has successfully gathered requisite signatures in four other petition drives in 1987, 1990, 2004 and 2013.

“There are at least 65 defective signatures in the 500-signature sample, including at least 21 duplicates — an unusually high rate,” said the group’s lawyer, Mark Brewer. “Given the findings of our review, we believe the board has ample reason to decline to certify these signatures.”

Right to Life of Michigan is preparing its counter challenge to rehabilitate or argue the validity of the challenged signatures, said Genevieve Marnon, the group’s legislative director. Right to Life of Michigan has not yet been given a deadline by the Bureau of Elections for completing the counter challenge. 

“We are slogging through the data right now,” Marnon said, noting the group has hit some obstacles in verifying the voter registration of a portion of the challenged signatures.

“Because of COVID-19, a lot of the clerk’s offices are closed and so trying to get a hold of clerks to verify voter registration has been a little bit difficult,” she said. “That is a challenge we’re trying to surmount.”

Right to Life of Michigan submitted the signatures Dec. 23 for the ballot proposal that would ban “dismemberment abortion.” 

If the petition is certified, the group intends to the have the GOP-led Legislature enact the initiative into law, which would allow Right to Life and supportive lawmakers of bypassing the November ballot box and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s promised veto. 

To qualify for the ballot or legislative adoption, the group must have at least 340,047 valid signatures. Right to Life of Michigan said it had 379,419 signatures, but a Bureau of Elections review found it had 373,062, according to the coalition’s complaint.

To assess whether there are enough valid signatures among the 373,062, the Bureau of Elections typically pulls a 500-signature sample to gauge the overall petition. 

If more than 465 signatures are found to be valid, the petition is certified. If between 449 and 464 signatures are determined to be valid, more signatures are sampled. But if less than 448 signatures are found to be valid, the petition is denied certification. 

The Coalition to Protect Access to Care maintains roughly 65 signatures are defective from the group of 500 for a total of about 435. Five signatures are misdated, more than 20 are not registered voters and another 21 signatures, or 4.2%, are duplicates, according to the complaint. 

“…one voter in the sample signed the petition twice in 3 days and then again a few weeks later,” the complaint said. 

The complaint also opposes the title of the ballot proposal, contenalleging that it does not clearly state that the petition is meant to criminalize a specific type of abortion.

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