Democratic state officials are warning voters to beware of misleading pitches for ballot petitions being circulated throughout Michigan.

Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said their offices have received more than a dozen complaints — most focused in the southeast Michigan area — related to circulators incorrectly describing a ballot initiative to get someone’s signature. 

In some cases, the circulator argued the petition would help small businesses or support medical marijuana goals, but the ballot language was completely different, such as repealing state legislation, according to Nessel and Benson’s offices. 

“The petition process is an important right that belongs to the people of this state, but these deceptive and dishonest practices are not being conducted in the spirit of a free and transparent democracy, one in which the power truly rests with an informed populace,” Nessel said in a statement.

A handful of the complaints that have come into state officials have mentioned campaigning by Unlock Michigan, a ballot committee seeking to repeal the 1945 Emergency Powers of the Governor Act in an attempt to curb Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency powers, said Ryan Jarvi, a spokesman for Nessel’s office. 

“The consistent theme is people feel they are being lied to,” Jarvi said. Some residents reported being told the petition would “help the governor” but it recalled her, or that the petition would “give the governor emergency powers” but it sought to repeal those powers, he said. 

“Some have reported being told the petition was ‘to bring business back to Michigan,’ and it was to recall the governor,” Jarvi said. 

Most of the complaints were made over the phone, Jarvi said, but others released to The Detroit News appeared to be Facebook comments. 

Benson urged the Legislature to make it a crime to misrepresent the material on a ballot initiative. 

“For decades we’ve seen Michigan citizens intentionally deceived about ballot petitions, and particularly our most vulnerable populations,” the secretary of state said. 

Fred Wszolek, a spokesman for Unlock Michigan, said the group’s petition is one sentence long and relatively easy to understand for folks adding their names. 

“We have no need to misrepresent our petition,” Wszolek said. “It does one single solitary thing and that is repeal a law. We’re having no trouble getting people to sign.”

Unlock Michigan has gathered roughly 100,000 of the more than 340,000 signatures needed to have the petition certified by the Board of State Canvassers, he said. 

“We’ve been having unbelievable success in staging our own signing events,” Wszolek said. “I suppose that’s why we’re taking fire from two statewide officials with nothing better to do.”

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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