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AG: No charges despite ‘unsavory tactics’ in petition drive

April 21, 2021 GMT

DETROIT (AP) — No criminal charges will be filed in an investigation of a petition drive to repeal a law that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to shut down parts of Michigan last year during the coronavirus pandemic, authorities said Wednesday.

Attorney General Dana Nessel said investigators found “unsavory practices and sleazy tactics” but nothing that would stand up as crimes in court. Her staff’s findings extended to an opponent of the petition drive.

The announcement came a day before the Board of State Canvassers was to consider hundreds of thousands of signatures submitted by a group called Unlock Michigan. The group, which has ties to Republicans, appears to have more than enough to send a repeal of the 1945 law to the GOP-controlled Legislature.

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For months, Whitmer, a Democrat, used the law to order sweeping restrictions on the economy to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The Michigan Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in October, but Unlock Michigan wants to sweep it off the books.

The investigation looked at the tactics of contractors who were paid to collect signatures. Training sessions were secretly recorded by opponents of the petition drive.

State law doesn’t prohibit a circulator from making false statements to a voter about the purpose of a petition, the attorney general’s office said.

“There is also no law that directly prohibits a circulator from simply advising a voter that he or she may sign their spouse’s name, or the name of any other person, on a petition,” the office said. “State law does prohibit a voter from signing someone else’s name.”

That was a problem for a lawyer who was actually an opponent or “agent provocateur,” according to a summary of the investigation. She pointedly asked if she could sign for her husband, probably did sign his name but then crossed it out, Nessel’s staff said. She refused to speak to investigators.

Her “conduct created a significant hurdle to pursuing criminal charges in the Unlock Michigan case,” the attorney general’s office said.

There was no evidence that Unlock Michigan leaders encouraged or tolerated any misconduct by paid petition circulators, Assistant Attorney General Richard Cunningham said.

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Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwritez