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Michigan board deadlocks on measure to repeal emergency law

April 22, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2020 file photo, a group gathers as boxes filled with petition signatures are delivered by Unlock Michigan to the Michigan Department of State Bureau of Elections in Lansing, Mich. A group trying to repeal an emergency powers law that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used for months to issue coronavirus restrictions cleared a key hurdle Monday, April 19, 2021 when the Michigan elections bureau said it collected enough petitions. (Rod Sanford/Detroit News via AP)
FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2020 file photo, a group gathers as boxes filled with petition signatures are delivered by Unlock Michigan to the Michigan Department of State Bureau of Elections in Lansing, Mich. A group trying to repeal an emergency powers law that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used for months to issue coronavirus restrictions cleared a key hurdle Monday, April 19, 2021 when the Michigan elections bureau said it collected enough petitions. (Rod Sanford/Detroit News via AP)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s elections board deadlocked Thursday on certifying a veto-proof initiative that would enable the Republican-led Legislature to wipe from the books a law Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used to issue sweeping pandemic orders last year.

The 2-2 vote means proponents of the ballot drive will go to court.

Democrats on the Board of State Canvassers voted not to certify the citizen-initiated measure despite a recommendation by the state elections bureau, which determined Unlock Michigan collected 460,00 valid signatures — more than the roughly 340,000 needed. Democrats called for further investigation and new petition rules a day after Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel said investigators found “unsavory practices and sleazy tactics” but nothing that would stand up in court as crimes.

“I’m concerned about the validity of some of these signatures ... how these signatures were gathered,” Democrat Julie Matuzak said. “We are the gatekeepers of election integrity.”

Republicans supported certification.

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“We’re just shutting down, and I don’t think we should shut down,” said chair Norman Shinkle. “They got well more than they need as far as signatures go.”

For months, the Democratic governor used the emergency-powers law to order and keep intact restrictions on the economy to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The Michigan Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional in October, but Unlock Michigan wants to repeal it to prevent a future court from deciding differently.

Since the ruling, Whitmer has turned to the state health department to keep intact a mask requirement and to tighten and ease restrictions under a separate law.

Unlock Michigan spokesman Fred Wszolek accused the Democratic canvassers of “predictable partisanship” despite their legal duty to certify. He suggested potentially seeking sanctions and court costs.

“Once again the Michigan Supreme Court will have to smack down these board members who refused to do their jobs,” he said.

Keep Michigan Safe, an opposition group, applauded the Democrats and accused the petition drive’s organizers of making “a mockery of our election process with their illegal and unscrupulous tactics.”

There is no evidence that Unlock Michigan leaders encouraged or tolerated any misconduct by paid petition circulators, according to the attorney general’s office.

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Follow David Eggert at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00