Jeanne Day-Labo spent dozens of hours each week volunteering for MILegalize, an organization aiming to legalize recreational marijuana in Michigan. The woman stood on intersections and other high-traffic locations gathering signatures to get a question on November’s ballot. In the end, MILegalize came up short. Although the organization turned in more than 370,000 certified signatures, well above the 252,000 required, the organization failed to collect the signatures within the mandated 180-day window. The activist said she believed Michigan’s laws work against grassroots and volunteer-based organizations.
“Michigan policy is totally in favor of big business and big money,” said Day-Labo. “We were a people-funded petition. They have made it virtually impossible. If you want to get something on the ballot you need to have $2-4 million on day one.”
MILegalize was not alone. Nearly a dozen organizations filed paperwork to submit ballot questions, but none gathered enough signatures to make the ballot. The 2016 presidential election will be the first in Michigan in nearly 60 years without a ballot question below the candidates’ names.
Connor Meston, a social relations and policy major at MSU, worked as a paid organizer for the Ban Michigan Fracking initiative. The organization gathered 150,000 signatures in total. The Lansing resident had conflicted feelings on the process.
“One one hand, I’d like to make it easier to get a question on the ballot, because you can always vote it down,” said Meston. “But, when there are more signatures needed, it requires you as an organization to really get out there and spread the word about the initiative.”
In the end, Meston said he did not regret spending time on the initiative.
“I look at it from a positive perspective,” said Meston. “We got to educate people on the dangers of fracking and that it is happening near you.”
State Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr, D-East Lansing, said he believes the signature threshold itself is not an issue, but the Michigan Legislature has made it more difficult for organizations to collect enough signatures in the 180-day window by getting rid of what he called the “pause” period.
“It’s hard to start collecting signatures right away from day one,” said Hertel. “I believe it was politically motivated. There were some folks that didn’t want the marijuana and anti-fracking measures on the ballot.”
East Lansing voters who live in Ingham County will see a ballot question regarding the operation of Potter Park Zoo. If passed, the question will renew an existing property tax to fund the zoo until 2020.
City Clerk Marie Wicks confirmed the city of East Lansing will have no ballot questions of its own this year. Wicks said it is not uncommon to see ballot questions submitted, but this year none were filed. The clerk said there has been talk of putting a funding measure for Parks and Recreation on the ballot, but it was not ready for this year.
“I hope to see ballot questions in the future, but not next year since that’s only a local election,” said Wicks. “I’d prefer to have questions on even-year elections to save money.”