LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan's Bureau of Elections recommended Thursday that the state's election board give final approval to a potential ballot initiative seeking to enshrine abortion rights into the state's constitution.
The Bureau of Elections said in a staff report that after examining petition sheets and a random sample of signatures, state officials determined that the petition contains 596,379 valid signatures –- close to 150,000 more than was required.
The report came after the Reproductive Freedom for All campaign turned in 753,759 signatures last month, a record-breaking number of signatures for a ballot initiative in the state. The Reproductive Freedom for All ballot initiative would affirm into Michigan's Constitution the right to make pregnancy-related decisions without interference.
During a meeting next Wednesday, the state Board of Canvassers is expected to make a final determination on whether the proposed amendment will be on the November ballot.
Abortion remains legal in the state after a state judge's ruling last week, but a more permanent decision on the legality of abortion in the state is expected to come from either the Michigan Supreme Court or from voters in the fall.
Michigan is one of four states that could have votes in November on abortion access, and the state's Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have made abortion rights a centerpiece of their reelection campaigns.
The Bureau of Elections' report also addressed an anti-abortion group's challenge to the proposed amendment last week, which claimed that lack of spacing in the amendment's text created "strings of gibberish" and made the amendment "impossible to understand."
The report said that staff made "no recommendation as to the merits of these legal arguments," but added that the amendment's text contained the same words that were approved by the state Board of Canvassers in March even if "certain portions of the petition have smaller spaces between words."
"Courts in Michigan have found that the board's duty is limited to determining whether the form of the petition substantially complies with the statutory requirements and whether there are sufficient signatures to warrant certification of the proposal," the Bureau of Election staff report stated.
The Reproductive Freedom for All campaign said in their response to the challenge that spaces are included in the full text of the proposed amendment and that those who signed the petition understood it.
The Bureau of Elections recommended in a separate report that the Board of Canvassers also approve a ballot question that would expand voter rights by allowing nine days of in-person early voting, state-funded absentee ballot postage and drop boxes in every community.
In response to the recommended approval of both proposals, Fred Wszolek, a GOP consultant working to oppose both measures, said the Board of Canvassers should "take their oaths of office seriously and reject these flawed proposals."
The Board of Canvassers is made up of two Republicans and two Democrats. It received widespread national attention in 2020 when Norm Shinkle, a Republican board member who has since resigned, abstained from voting to certify the state's results of the presidential election won by President Joe Biden.
Joey Cappelletti is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.